By Rock Mayock 7:00 p.m.| USC fans have been scratching their heads in response to the Trojans’ 6-1 start to the season. Almost every single pre-season pundit proclaimed the Trojans a sure fire lock of the 2013 BCS Championship Game due to an embarrassment of offensive weapons that include Matt Barkley, Marquis Lee, Robert Woods and Silas Redd. Instead of a smorgasbord of highlight touch downs Trojan fans have been treated to a consistently underachieving offense. This offensive production has raised the following questions:
1. Is Matt Barkley overhyped?
2. Is the team winning because of or in spite of Barkley?
As we are PhDs we already know the answer to this question. However, for the benefit of our wonderful readers we will explore these questions further.
Is Matt Barkley overhyped?
The short answer to this question is an unequivocal “yes.” Here are the quick facts to support this answer:
In both high school and college Barkley’s numbers have dropped off, not improved, between his Junior and Senior seasons. Don’t believe me? Check the stats:
A basic indicator that signifies a “stud” quarterback is continuous improvement. Matt Ryan is a stud QB because he has become incrementally better year over year. This principal does not apply to Barkley.
As you can see, regardless of whether Barkley is playing in college or high school his numbers plummet between a stellar Junior campaign and a not so hot Senior campaign. Although yardage numbers typically stay on par (keep in mind 2012 numbers are skewed because season play is ongoing) the TD to INT ratio becomes nearly 1:1. This is not indicative of a stud QB but rather a player that opposing defenses can easily game plan
The reasons for Barkley’s pattern of regression are easily identified because it is obvious he does not know how to read defenses and refuses to check down from his primary receiver. Therefore his success spawned by the quality of talent surrounding around him as well as the benefit of playing against inferior opponents. A quality defensive coordinator with semi decent player personnel can easily break down game tape and game plan for Barkley. For example, Syracuse provided the 2012 blueprint on how to slow the USC offense via physical press coverage on Lee and Woods in addition to getting pressure on Barkley from the blind side. Due to the fact that Barkley is unable to identify blitz/coverage schemes or get off his primary receiver the Trojan offense suffers. Stanford followed the same formula and in turn destroyed the much vaunted Trojan offense.
Always remember the benchmark standard for measuring success are championships. Matt Leinart is a two time national champion. Tom Brady is a two time champion. Eli Manning is a two time champion. Heisman Palmer is an Orange Bowl champion. Barkley is no champion. As starting quarterback for both Mater Dei High School and USC, Barkley has never won a championship. Studs win championships. Punks win consolation prizes.
Is the team winning because of or in spite of Barkley?
The reason why USC is winning games is not because of Matt Barkley, it’s because of Lane Kiffin. Although Kiffin has his deficiencies as a head coach he is unquestionably a great offensive play caller. Going back to his days as a graduate assistant under Pete Carroll, Kiffin has demonstrated a penchant for getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. By virtue of Kiffin’s offensive prowess players such as Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and Dwayne Jarrett developed into superstars. These players enjoyed great success in college however their NFL careers have been disappointments because they do not have the proper play caller guiding them. Let’s explore this further.
Last year Kiffin simplified the playbook to give Barkley only one read. This simplified offense was predicated upon exploiting the athleticism of Robert Woods and Marquis Lee by placing them in easy to read one on one matchups. As a result of Barkley, Woods and Lee all enjoyed record setting seasons. As of late this success has been stymied by opposing defensive coordinators who discovered that jamming Lee or Woods at the line of scrimmage or playing them tight man would force Barkley to check down to his hot read. Unfortunately for Trojan fans Barkley doesn’t know how to check down to his hot read and the passing game has suffered. Therefore Kiffin had to find a new formula for victory.
Since Stanford’s September 15, 2012, domination of USC the offense has taken a decidedly different direction. Kiffin has elected to take the ball out of Barkley’s hands and instead lean heavily upon his run game, in particular Silas Redd. By shifting the offensive focus from Barkley to the run game, Kiffin has forced defenses to ease their pass rush and stack the box. In turn the play action pass has opened up once again and allowed Barkley to enjoy the benefits of the single read pass play and improve his overall efficiency. This strategy has proven effective against substandard defensive backfields found on teams like Colorado or Utah. Undoubtedly USC’s scheme will be tested when facing a stout front 7 such as against Oregon, Arizona State or Notre Dame. Against such defenses both Kiffin and Barkley must strike a balance in the offense. This means that Redd will need to run the ball effectively and Barkley MUST be able to distribute the ball to Woods, Lee, Xavier Grimble, George Farmer, Soma Vainuku and Curtis McNeal. By distributing the ball to multiple weapons the USC offense will flourish. However if Barkley continues with his routine of the 3 yard bubble screen passes to Woods or Lee the offense will continue to be stagnate.
So what is the final verdict on Barkley? Barkley is an overrated, yet still very good, college QB. Lane Kiffin has catered his offensive system to Barkley’s limited skill set however this skill set is only good enough to win games against marginal opponents. Against upper tier opponents the Barkley does not have the aptitude to win games on his own. At the end of the day Barkley is good enough to break some records but he will never be a Heisman Palmer or Heisman Leinart. Eat your hearts out Heisman Palmer/Heisman Leinart fans:
Photo: Paul Rodriguez, The Orange County Register