In a search for film of his first opposing quarterback this season, USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast had to dig deeper than usual. He wound up studying tape from three years ago from West L.A. College in Culver City.
Otherwise, Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna remains mostly a mystery. Reyna, who hails from Downey, threw just 12 passes a season ago and redshirted prior to that.
The sample size may be too small to glean much about the Bulldogs’ new starter. But as USC prepares to take on Fresno State in its opener Saturday, Reyna will be a focus of the Trojans’ defense. Even if they don’t quite know what to focus on.
“You look at everything,” senior defensive end Christian Rector said. “But at the same time, we have our game to play. We’re not gonna go out chasing ghosts. They have to get through us.”
That may prove difficult for a Fresno State offense that’s returning just 36.5% of its total yards from last year’s 12-2 team. Reyna is an unknown quantity, and the Bulldogs still must replace their two top receivers from a year ago. But if there’s any potential vulnerability on USC’s defense, especially early in the season, it’s through the air.
The Trojans secondary is likely to remain unsettled heading into Saturday, even as the team releases an official depth chart Friday. No matter who starts at cornerback, coach Clay Helton reiterated Thursday that several cornerbacks will rotate into the game.
“We have to let all these kids get their feet wet,” Helton said.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, who knows Pendergast from their days coaching together at California, will no doubt be looking to take advantage of that inexperience on the back end. While Reyna is short on experience himself, Tedford’s offenses have proven adept in the past in similar situations.
“This is a typical Jeff Tedford group,” Helton said. “I don’t expect anything less. He’s got a couple new faces that will be out there, both offensively and defensively, but we know they’ll be well coached.”
Defensively, few teams were more ferocious a season ago. The Bulldogs ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 14.1 points per game. In the red zone, that defense was even better. No team in the nation held opponents to a lower conversion rate inside the 20, as only 66.7% of their opponents trips a year ago ended in a score.
That was hardly a strength of the Trojans offense a year ago. Among Pac-12 teams, only Cal and Oregon State had a worse red zone conversation percentage than USC (80%).
Rector, wideout Michael Pittman and linebackers John Houston and Jordan Iosefa were named 2019 captains in a team vote. ... Sophomore linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain will miss Saturday’s opener, and likely multiple games after that, after an arthroscopic procedure was done on his knee this week. … Walk-on running back Quincy Jountti was awarded a scholarship. His brother, Corbin, also earned a scholarship after first walking on at USC.