Showcasing Biggest Strengths and How to Improve Glaring Weaknesses of USC
Reeling from their stunning 21-14 loss to Stanford last weekend, the USC Trojans have some issues that need to be addressed if they want to battle back into the national championship picture.
Luckily for them, they still have plenty that is right about their team to build around.
So at 2-1, and with nine regular season games remaining, here is a look at what the Trojans need to do to fix what is troubling them, and what they need to lead them to the promised land.
I'm a bad news first guy, so we'll start with the weaknesses.
The Trojans returned four of five starters from an offensive line that was one of the nation's best a year ago.
While the one loss was a big one (left tackle Matt Kalil), the Trojans were not expected to have their offensive front five bullied around the field like they were against Stanford.
Part of this was undoubtedly due to center Khaled Holmes missing the game with an injury and being replaced by inexperienced redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi.
Going against a 3-4, like Stanford employs, the center is asked to anchor the line by taking on the nose tackle and Hobbi was overwhelmed. It is not all his fault, though. He needs help on the interior, and the USC line was not functioning well as a group.
USC will be bolstered by the return of Holmes, which Paskwietz points out may or may not happen next week against Cal, but they can't rely on his return to fix everything.
For starters, they are having a hard time replacing Kalil. Paskwietz states that current starter Aundrey Walker and freshman Max Tuerk will wage in an open competition for the left tackle spot.
USC needs improvement on the blindside, and hopefully the competition will push Walker to new heights, or reveal that Tuerk is ready for the challenge.
Also, this group needs to start functioning as one. Double teams need to be quick and effective, and the missed assignments have to come to a screeching halt.
We'll stay right in the trenches to identify the Trojans' other glaring weakness. The Trojans have serious depth issues along the defensive line.
This started before the season when senior defensive end Devon Kennard tore his pectoral muscle making it a question if he could return at all this season.
Despite this loss, the line looked strong for the early part of the season. However, in the second half of their second game, the Trojans' thin defensive front was overwhelmed by Syracuse. USC continued to get pushed around as it allowed Stanford to rush for 202 yards at 5.5 yards per carry.
Juco transfer defensive end Morgan Breslin and defensive tackle George Uko have been solid this year, but they need help. They are getting worn down.
USC needs to find some reliable depth to give these guys a breather during games. They also need to get creative with their blitzes to allow their linebackers to add some needed pressure on the QB. And when going against a strong running team like Stanford, they need to crowd to box so they aren't continually victimized by the running game.
As the Washington Post's Matt Brooks points out, Matt Barkley agrees with coach Lane Kiffin that he was not good enough against Stanford.
The crux of the argument is that Barkley made too many poor decisions. This is something that has plagued Barkley in the past, but also something he improved on greatly last season.
He will also improve on it following his two interception performance against Stanford.
While Barkley threw some ill-advised passes in that one, the blame cannot go solely on his shoulders. He was harassed all game and that makes it tough for any QB to succeed.
The Trojans offensive line, while a work in progress, isn't likely to have a worse showing than it did against Stanford. With some more time, Barkley will again start filling up the stat sheets in all the right places, like he did last season when he threw 39 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
Secondary's Pass Defense
USC's secondary has some tackling issues that hurt them in the run game, but these guys can play the pass.
Their job is not made any easier by the defensive line's lack of a pass rush, but they make up for it.
Opposing QBs are going for a QB rating of just 116.3 as they have thrown five touchdowns to six interceptions. This included two picks against Stanford last Saturday.
If the Trojans can muster an improved pass rush, this secondary will force even more turnovers, and if the front seven can't increase the heat on opposing QBs, this secondary will still ensure this pass defense is not a liability.
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