By Rock Mayock 9:00 p.m. | If you’re a USC Trojans fan you must be thrilled with the outcome of Saturday’s game against the Syracuse Orangemen (we refuse to call them “Orange”)… right? Wrong. Don’t let the final score fool you, the game was an uncomfortably close contest. Don’t blame the cooky weather or the 90 minute delay at halftime. USC was out coached and out muscled by an athletically inferior team. Although they were not to be placed on the Upset Alert sheet along with Arkansas and Wisconsin, USC was fortunate to be return to the sleepy little town of Los Angeles 2-0 with Conference play looming on the horizon. Let’s break down the top 5 things we learned.
1. For the second week in a row Matt Barkley has not not looked Heisman like. Although Barkley completed nearly 77% (23-30) of his pass attempts and matched his previous school record of throwing 6 TDs in one game, Barkley was not sharp.
His 30 pass completions netted only 187-yards, 6.23 YPA or 8.13 YPC. More importantly, Marquis Lee (11) and Robert Woods (10) accounted for 21 of Barkley’s 23 completions. Xavier Grimble (1) and Soma Vainuku (1) were the only other receivers who caught a Barkley pass.
The lopsided distribution of passes was a function of poor reads by Barkley and overly cute play calling by Lane Kiffin. Apparently Kiffin was single mindedly focused upon out routes and wide receiver screen passes to Woods and Lee. This enabled the Syracuse corners to play tight on the receivers, limit the big plays and put pressure on Barkley.
Moving forward it is imperative that Barkley/Kiffin find way to incorporate more receivers, especially Xavier Grimble, into the passing game. Both Woods and Lee are immensely talented however the offense as a whole becomes more potent when defenses are forced to cover 3 or 4 guys instead of two.
2. The Trojan run game continues to be anemic. First the positive. USC rushed for 258 yards on 33 carries which translates into 7.82 YPC. On the surface these statistics are good however closer evaluation shows they are misleading due to several big runs by Redd, Woods and Lee. To illustrate the point let’s evaluation the statistical data.
By eliminating the outlier runs of 74, 40, -7 and -11 yards the Trojans’ average yard per carry drops to 5.52. Another stat that jumps off the page is that 15 of the Trojans’ 33 rushing attempts were for 3 yards or less. The 15.46 standard deviation for Yards Per Carry collaborates the reliable unreliability of USC’s rushing game. All of the sudden the run game isn’t looking quite a good.
3. The right leg injury of C Khaled Holmes is a big deal. Entering the season USC was already perilously thin along the offensive line and loosing your two year Center is devastating. True freshman Cyrus Hobbi played well in back up duty but the line simply cannot afford any additional injuries. The severity of Holmes’ injury is still unknown and he will undergo further evaluation on Monday. The Trojans need to get Holmes back as soon as possible because one of the reserves, Abe Markowitz, left the game with an injured shoulder.
4. USC needs to learn how to play cleaner penalty free games. The Trojans accumulated 12 penalties for 82 yards in Saturday’s contest. The penalties prolonged Syracuse drives, placed the Trojans in terrible field position and play calling scenarios. They MUST play clean games particularly when they enter Conference competition.
5. The USC defense has two emerging stars, Dion Bailey and Morgan Breslin. If not for Robert Woods’ flashy offensive explosion, Bailey should have been designated Player of the Game due to his 8 tackles, 7 solo, and 2 INTs. Bailey has tremendous football instincts and always seems to find the ball a la Zeke Moreno and Matt Grootegoed. Against both Hawaii and Syracuse, Breslin has demonstrated the ability to physically dominate offensive tackles via the bull and speed rush. Who misses Devon Kennard when you have Morgan Breslin?