Posted on October 16, 2020
Alijah Vera-Tucker’s decision to opt back into the 2020 season might be the single most important development of USC’s offseason.
When Vera-Tucker announced his decision on Oct. 6 to return to college for one more year instead of skipping his redshirt junior season for the NFL Draft—a decision he made when a potential 2020-21 fall Pac-12 season seemed unlikely—it gave the Trojans a boost that shouldn’t be overlooked.
While a strong offensive line is admittedly not as “sexy” as a Marqise Lee-esque receiver who makes seemingly impossible catches, or a Reggie Bush-esque running back who tears opposing defenses to shreds week in and week out, it’s arguably just as important.
And neither a sensational running back or receiver is possible without a viable offensive line.
The Trojans unquestionably have one of the strongest wide receiver groups in the country. But what good is a receiving corps as deep as USC’s without an an imposing offensive line to make it work?
That’s the shortcoming USC faced with Austin Jackson gone to the first round of the NFL Draft, and Vera-Tucker opting out to prepare for a similar fate. With a line boasting talent and size but lacking depth and experience, it seemed that much of USC’s skill-positions talent would go to waste.
Kedon Slovis, a sleeper candidate for the Heisman Trophy this year, would have had his blind side dependent on a replacement-level left tackle that couldn’t come close to matching Jackson’s or Vera-Tucker’s production.
This would have impacted Slovis’ ability to utilize his standout receiver group to the fullest, effectively killing Slovis’ shot at the coveted Heisman and—more importantly—USC’s chance at a College Football Playoff, or at least, a return to national relevance.
Enter Vera-Tucker, whose presence all but eradicates any questions USC offensive line coach Tim Drevno may have had about the ever-important left tackle position. Vera-Tucker, though a guard by trade, is the clear choice to slide over to that spot, with his athleticism and versatility, and fill a crucial gap for the Trojans while also boosting his draft stock in the process.
But Vera-Tucker’s decision isn’t just one that will impact Slovis and his wide receivers’ ability to become an offensive powerhouse; it’s one that should make USC fans a whole lot more comfortable about the quarterback position, which figures to be an obvious strength for the Trojans this year.
Take a look at USC’s quarterback room for a moment—not just Slovis, but the whole room. Tell me what you see.
At one point in 2019, Matt Fink seemed like the best third-string quarterback in the country, but a poor performance against Washington—a week after an encouraging win over Utah, in which the game plan was simply to throw the ball up and pray—eradicated much of the confidence he can lead a team to a Conference Championship.
Mo Hasan, a graduate transfer from Vanderbilt, has played in six games over the last two seasons, combining for a grand total of 17 passes. He figures to be the third-string.
If we ever get to a fourth-string, there are serious problems. There is no fifth-string.
USC’s quarterback depth—or lack thereof—is an issue that no one really wants to talk about because Slovis is so damn good. But if Slovis were to take a hit so catastrophic that he were to miss significant time, USC goes from a Pac-12 Championship contender to a team that might struggle to go 4-3 over a seven-game season.
Of course, Vera-Tucker’s return doesn’t guarantee that won’t happen anyway. But it sure should make Slovis, the Trojans, and USC fans a lot more confident that it won’t.
—Recent Nathan Ackerman Stories—
- Ackerman: Don’t sleep on USC’s Running Backs in 2020
- Ackerman: Game-by-Game Predictions for USC in 2020
- Ackerman: AP Voters Disrespected Trojans in Leaving them Out of Latest Poll
- Ackerman: Not Playing Football in Fall Would be Catastrophic for Pac-12
- Ackerman: New Trojan Coaches Must Get More Out of Their Existing Talent
Ackerman: Don’t sleep on USC’s Running Backs in 2020The Trojans are loaded with receivers, but this could be the year of the running backs breakout - October 20, 2020
Ackerman: Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Alijah Vera-Tucker’s ReturnThe offensive lineman’s decision to opt back in eases several concerns for the Trojans - October 16, 2020
Ackerman: Game-by-Game Predictions for USC in 2020The Trojans aren't likely to go undefeated but, would likely play in the title game with one loss - October 8, 2020