Who: Josh Henson, USC
Title: Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach
Previous stop: Texas A&M offensive line coach (2019-21)
Why he's important: No 4-8 team in college football history has ever had more hype in front of it than the 2022 USC Trojans. Not even close.
I wouldn’t have said this earlier in the offseason, but after adding Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison from Pitt, Riley’s first USC offense is just ridiculously loaded. He also added Williams at quarterback, four-year Oregon standout running back Travis Dye and ex-Oklahoma wide receiver Mario Williams. It won’t be enough to completely overcome the Trojans’ talent-deficient defense, but they could certainly win 10 games.
It's true. Lincoln Riley did sign an incredible transfer class of skill players. I might even take USC to win a national 7-on-7 tournament.
From the jump, Riley has not shied away or downplayed USC's win-now expectations.
"In this day and age, I think it can happen quickly. I do. I think there's a lot of good things going on in this program right now that we can absolutely build on. I think in this day and age with the way college football works, you can turn over rosters in so many different ways," he said at his introductory press conference back in November. "No time is soon enough."
Of course, USC is not fielding a 7-on-7 team. They'll have to field an offensive line to block for all those dazzling transfers, and Riley gave that task to a newcomer to his system.
A Tuttle, Oklahoma native -- population 7,300, and also the hometown of 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White -- Josh Henson played at Oklahoma State in the late 1990s, then returned to Stillwater to coach tight ends under his college coach, Bob Simmons. Henson was retained when Les Miles came to town in 2001, then joined him in Baton Rouge, where he was part of the Tigers' 2007 national championship team.
Henson left in 2009 to coach the offensive line and serve as offensive coordinator under Gary Pinkel at Missouri. Henson was with Mizzou when the Tigers joined the SEC, and at the helm of the offense when they won back-to-back SEC East titles in 2013-14.
He returned to his alma mater in 2016, where he went head-to-head with his future boss. Riley won all three games, but Henson made him sweat in two of them. Oklahoma won 38-20 in 2016, then 62-52 in '17 and 48-47 in '18.
Henson then left Oklahoma State for the SEC a second time, joining Jimbo Fisher's super staff at Texas A&M. In 2020, A&M became the first team in a decade to lead the SEC in sacks allowed, TFLs allowed, and yards per carry. The Aggies started two freshmen in 2021 and still ranked third in the SEC in yards per carry.
At USC, Henson inherits a room with five experienced players plus Bobby Haskins, who started at left tackle for Virginia last fall. This spring, Riley praised USC's experience up front, but depth may be a concern for an offense that Riley admitted is "demanding" from a mental standpoint for offensive linemen.
“We have a lot of capability in that room,” Riley told reporters in the spring. “And we have one thing in that room you cannot put a price tag on, and that’s experience. At that position, with a new offense and an offense that’s very demanding for an offensive line to learn and to master and do very well, that experience is crucial. We are a lot further ahead right now than where we would be if we were an inexperienced group."
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS: No. 15 Tim DeRutyer (Texas Tech); No. 14 Rob Sale (Florida); No. 13 Joe Gillespie (TCU); No. 12: Brennan Marion (Texas); No. 11: Derek Mason (Oklahoma State); No. 10: Eric Kiesau (Auburn); No. 9: Mike Denbrock (LSU); Jesse Minter (Michigan); No. 7: Mark Whipple (Nebraska).
Not that Riley and Henson don't know this, because they definitely do, but it takes more than five or six linemen to field an effective offensive front. As a veteran observer of many new head coaching regimes, excessive enthusiasm toward the starting offensive line is often an emotional coping mechanism papering over terrifying depth behind the first unit.
At some point this fall, USC will be counting on first-year linemen, playing in a new system, taught by a coach working his way through his own first year in the system. In Riley's first year at Oklahoma, where both the head coach and the offensive line coach were holdovers from the previous year, the Sooners' yards per carry average actually fell from the previous standard. The 2014 Sooners, without Riley, rushed for 6.1 yards per carry; the 2015 group averaged 5.03. (By 2018, OU led the nation in yards per carry.)
For all of USC's problems in 2021, though, the line was not among them. The Trojans were among the top 40 nationally in average line yards and in power success rate, and elite in pass protection. In traditional numbers, USC was in the top 20 at limiting sacks and TFLs, but an average 61st at 4.36 yards per carry.
Still, championship expectations are not being heaped upon these Trojans against their consent. At least not the head coach's.
“I see not one reason on this planet why we cannot have a great offensive line here very, very quickly,” Riley said this spring.
Now it's on Henson to live up to those expectations, coming from outside and inside the program. If the front gels and the backups exceed expectations -- and, lest we forget, 2021's No. 102-ranked defense massively exceeds expectations -- a No. 15 ranking may not be high enough. If USC doesn't live up to the self-embraced hype, though, the 2022 Trojans will be the biggest Hollywood flop since "Morbius."