USC Football

USC Scoop's Early 2020 Projections: Defensive MVP

July 29, 2020

Josh An

In the summer of 2018, Scott and I were standing on the bleachers of Cromwell Field watching the player run practices. At this point I barely knew Scott, so I asked which defensive line prospects stood out to him in that class. Without hesitation, Scott mentioned that a player out of Corona Centennial, Drake Jackson, was an elite prospect in his eyes and someone who was critical to the Trojans’ 2019 class. Well, fast forward two years, and here and I am picking Jackson as the defensive MVP for the 2020 season.

Jackson is a unique talent, capable of imposing his will on running backs in the run game while also bending around the edge to get to the quarterback. In Year one he flashed all of these skills, racking up 46 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, and 1 forced fumble.  He’s the best option USC currently has at what I believe is the most important aspect of defense(pass rush), and is only going to grow more going into Year 2.   What will be interesting to see is if Coach Orlando deems Jackson a better fit as a down lineman or an outside linebacker type. In my opinion, he’s strong and athletic enough to handle either position, just ask former Utah QB Tyler Huntley.

If Jackson takes another leap that I believe he is capable of, that opens up the rest of the defense to make plays. On the line, the likes of Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu will have more one-on-one opportunities, Palaie Gaoteote will be able to shoot gaps more often, and there will be less pressure on the secondary as a whole to hold in coverage for as long as they had to at times last season. There will be strong trickle down effect, and Jackson’s development is the key to making it all happen.

Marc Kulkin

Since Josh picked the lowest hanging piece of talent from tree, I’m stuck looking for the next best selection to pluck...and the pickings are ripe!  

Choosing, Drake Jackson, as the Defensive’ MVP is the logical choice considering the way, Jackson, burst on the scene as a freshman...and I have zero doubts new defensive coordinator, Todd Orlando, is slaivating at the opportunitites to utilize Drake’s talents.  

However, Orlando, doesn’t have to choose just one player.  

Jay Tufele, Isaiah Pola-Mao and Talanoa Hufanga are among a handful of others who should be considered the Trojan’s defensive MVP, and the national pundits agree considering all of the preseason award watch lists the Trojans have appeared on.  

Jay Tufele, I apologize.  The Trojans Defensive MVP will be Talanoa Hufanga.  

He’s a playmaker and will be playing a position which will allow him to become USC’s 3rd Thorpe Award Winner joining Mark Carrier and Adoree Jackson. 

Hufanga is not just a physically intimidating strong safety in the mold of Trojan Hall of Famer, Troy Polamalu, he’s also a cerebral assassin who sees things develop quickly and puts himself in the right position to make the play.  Check out some of Hufanga’s stats from 2019 as a true sophomore; his nickname is the “Human Missile” for a reason...he sees his target and blows it up!

Hufanga tallied 8 tackles against Fresno State, a game-high 10 tackles (1 for loss) against Stanford, a team-best 10 tackles with a deflection at BYU and a game-best and then-career-high 14 tackles, including 1.5 for losses (with 0.5 sack), against Utah.  He had 6 tackles and a deflection at Notre Dame....and 18 tackles (including 2 for a loss, with a sack) and a deflection against UCLA (the most tackles by a Trojan since Troy Polamalu’s 20 against Utah in the 2001 Vegas Bowl) to earn Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.  

There’s really only obstacle standing in Hufanga’s way of becoming the next Trojan legend, and the enemy is himself...or should we say his collarbone which has been a source on concern since Hufanga arrived in 2018.   Considering Hufanga has been starting at the position since he chose to enroll early in 2018, one full season injury free would go a long way is solidifying his chance to win the MVP Award.

Check out some highlights of the Talanoa the Human Missile Hufanga laying down the law.  

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