USC vs. Washington: Final Game Grades and Analysis for the Trojans
The USC Trojans proved victorious—as they beat the Washington Huskies in a hard-fought contest by a score of 24-14. This win now propels the No.11 Trojans to 5-1, while a loss drops the Huskies to 3-3. While Matt Barkley didn't have his best game, it was the Trojan defense that led the way with four forced turnovers.
Let's take a look at the Trojans' final post game grades and evaluations.
This was not a vintage Matt Barkley performance by any stretch of the imagination.
Barkley finished a pedestrian 10/20 for 167 yards. Yes folks, the 167 yards is for the entire game, not a quarter. The Heisman candidate was seemingly off the entire night. There wasn't a great deal of synergy between Barkley and his receivers, and he was lacking considerably in regards to accuracy.
It's actually shocking to see that Barkley only completed 10 passes, yet USC won by double-digits. That's not usually the recipe for success, considering that the Trojans do rely on their pass game so much. In this contest, however, the effectiveness in the run game afforded Barkley to have somewhat of a clunker.
For the most part, Barkley acted as a 'manager of the game' as opposed to his usual role as a gunslinger. He made one poor read in the first quarter, where he threw into zone coverage and was intercepted by Washington corner Marcus Peters. It was fascinating to see that the Trojans didn't really look to throw down the field with the same amount of regularity that they usually do. That probably is due to a combination of Barkley performing under par, and with the Huskies' defensive scheme.
Still, it's a bit curious that Barkley didn't look to throw the ball down the field more—especially considering that the Washington corners were pressing up on Marqise Lee and Robert Woods for most of the night.
I don't expect Barkley to have many games like this, so look at it as a bit of an aberration.
Running Backs: A
Barkley notwithstanding, the run game carried the Trojans offensively tonight.
Penn State transfer Silas Redd slashed the Husky defense to the tune of 155 yards on 26 carries. Redd set the tone from the first snap of the game, where he reversed field after being temporarily bottled up, and scampered 57 yards.
It's refreshing from the Trojans' perspective to see balance within the offense. Much of the time, the Trojans are a pass happy offense with only a semblance of a run game. Tonight with Barkley faltering, USC leaned on the duo of Redd and McNeal.
Redd ran with an impressive combination of physicality and vision. He relished contact, and seemingly got stronger after contact. McNeal offered a nice change-of-pace element, and ran for 58 yards on 11 carries.
In total, the Trojans ran for 204 yards on 40 carries.
Heading into the game (or any USC game), did anyone expect the most effective receiver to be someone not named Woods or Lee?
Tonight, it was a man named Grimble.
Tight end Xavier Grimble had only two catches—but both were for big chunks of yardage. His first catch was an 18-yard touchdown. At 6'5" 255-pounds, he presents a huge target, and undoubtedly is a huge mismatch when going up against linebackers or defensive backs.
Tonight, he was able to gain separation from a Washington nickel back and exploited the seam in the heart of the field for a score. His second catch went for 24-yards on a play action roll out. Grimble displayed his impressive athleticism by eluding defenders and breaking tackles.
With only 10 completions for 167 yards, there wasn't much production from Lee and Woods. Woods did lead the team with five catches for 88 yards. Lee had only two catches for 32 yards, and was largely a non-factor. Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant did a great job defending Lee, and the Serra High School product wasn't able to get the usual separation on routes.
The relationship between Barkley and his receiving core truly does go hand in hand. When Barkley's not having a strong night, his receivers will struggle somewhat. That was the case tonight.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line stepped up and had a very good performance.
From the very onset of the game, there was a noticeable physicality displayed by the unit. Washington's defensive line was getting blown off the ball pretty easily, and the duo of Redd and McNeal were operating with gaping holes and running lanes.
The line helped USC to run for over 200 yards for the game, including a 5.1 yards per carry average. There were some pass protection issues and penalty problems (namely by the tackles), but for the most part this unit was very impressive.
It shouldn't be overstated enough, but senior center Khaled Holmes is arguably the most important part of the Trojans' offense. He's the glue, the heartbeat, the leader and any other bit of hyperbole that one wants to use when speaking about the Trojans' offensive line.
Holmes' value is unmeasurable to a line that's been fighting through inconsistency, inexperience and injury.
The bottom line is that the unit helped to control the game, and gave the Trojans a chance to win when their star quarterback was having a tough go of it.
Defensive Line: A
It was a truly dominating effort by the defensive line.
The pressure brought by the front four single handedly enabled defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to drop extra personnel in coverage and not get burned by constant blitzing.
Led by defensive end Morgan Breslin, the defensive line terrorized Washington quarterback Keith Price all night. Breslin had a team high two of the five sacks, while Leonard Williams, George Uko and Wes Horton had a sack each.
It wasn't so much the sack total, but it was what the pressure was doing to Price. The lack of time offered him no opportunity to scan the gridiron and throw down the field. By the start of the third quarter, Price had only gotten one first down since the opening drive of the first quarter. That was in large part due to the defensive line.
Washington tailback Bishop Sankey entered this contest with 100-yard performances in his last three games. Tonight, the Trojans held him to 54 yards on 14 carries. The Huskies only rushed for 100 yards on the night, for a 3.3 yards per carry average.
The linebacker corps had a very solid game, led by Dion Bailey.
Bailey set the tone early with a first quarter interception of Price. It was a very athletic play, as he had to stop mid-stride and contort his body the opposite direction for a diving grab.
Late in the fourth quarter, Bailey lowered the boom and jarred the ball loose from Price as he was running up field. Not only was that Bailey's second forced turnover of the game, but it iced the victory for the Trojans.
It was very apparent that the overall speed possessed by Bailey and Hayes Pullard bothered the receiving corps of Washington. Price was very hesitant to go across the middle, and rarely found success in that portion of the field.
The sideline-to-sideline pursuit of the 'backers was generally pretty good. Anthony Sarao did well, and Tony Burnett made a great tackle in space on Washington speedster wide out Jaydon Mickens.
Washington did get success when Price stepped up from the pocket and ran for yardage. He also lived on short yardage routes for most of the night—primarily on routes to running backs out of the backfield.
Regardless, the 'backers did their job and performed quite well.
Defensive Backs: A-
Heading into the game, it was going to be a tough task dealing with the Huskies' dynamic twosome of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams.
Cornerback Nickell Robey made it his personal mission to shut down Williams, and he effectively did so—holding Washington's leading receiver to two catches for 22 yards. The captain of the Trojans' defense was pressing Williams all night, and gave him no breathing room.
The Trojans held Seferian-Jenkins to one catch for four yards in the first half, which is quite a testament alone, considering that Seferian-Jenkins is one of the best tight ends in the country. In the 3rd quarter, the 6'6" 266-pound tight end displayed why he's so highly though of, and torched the USC secondary for multiple big gains—including a 29-yard touchdown. He finished with 83 yards on five catches.
For the most part, the secondary blanketed Washington's pass attack. Price's longest pass for the night went to Seferian-Jenkins, but no other receiver had more than 45 yards receiving.
Lots of the success had to do with the pressure up front, but when Price did have time to throw, there wasn't much there in the form of open receivers.
Florida transfer Josh Shaw filled in for the injured Torin Francis and had an interception in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the most important play of the night was from safety Jawanza Starling. Washington was driving early in the third quarter. Down 10, the Huskies were in the red zone looking to make it a one score game.
On a scramble, Starling came up and stripped Price of the ball. The Trojans recovered and stemmed the mass amount of momentum that the Huskies grabbed at that part of the contest.
Forcing two turnovers is a huge boon for the secondary.
Special Teams: B-
Special teams have been a cause for concern, and those concerns weren't completely alleviated tonight.
Punt returner Nickell Robey muffed two punts, and fortunately for Robey, both were recovered by the Trojans. Kicker Andre Heidari nailed a short 23-yard field goal in the first quarter, but had a 41-yard attempt blocked in the third quarter. The punt coverage team also relinquished a large return to Washington returner Cody Bruns.
On the positive, neither Mickens nor Marvin Hall broke out for large returns. In addition, defensive back Anthony Brown blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.
Consistency in special teams is an aspect that needs to be shored up if the Trojans are to be playing in a BCS game. There's no doubt that these types of mistakes could hurt the Trojans against tougher opponents.
This was an interesting game for Kiffin and his staff.
From the get-go, it was apparent that Kiffin wanted to establish the run game and display a physical nature. He was successful at doing that throughout the game, and that helped to take pressure off of the poor performance by Barkley.
Defensively, there really wasn't much need to blitz and bring extra people. The defensive line was so dominating, and that helped the team in coverage.
Due to the effectiveness of both the run game and the defense, Kiffin called a rather conservative game. It might upset some people that he didn't throw the ball all over the yard, but it was a smart move. He stuck with what was successful, and rode that to a victory.
In a way, Kiffin adapted to Barkley's struggles and went with what was working against the Huskies. For that, I give him credit. Right now, USC isn't known as physical team on either side of the ball, but they definitely displayed great physicality tonight.
A minor criticism would be the conservatism on third-and-long plays. Then again, playing the field position game was probably the intelligent thing to do—considering the duality of Barkley's struggles and the dominance of the defense.