For the first time in a long time, USC has question marks at the quarterback position. With no proven starter and Matt Barkley's senior struggles, USC fans are anxious for the Trojans next great quarterback to emerge.
Max Wittek is the front-runner to takeover early on as the signal-caller, and after two games of up-and-downs, the USC faithful isn't quite sure what to expect. The fan base has already been letdown after major expectations a year ago and doesn't want to be led down that same path. But on the other hand, this is USC, a program known for quality play at the position, and anything less is considered a failure.
Will Wittek live up to the expectations?
But here are some of the things he can learn from Barkley to help him along the way to be a more productive quarterback in 2013.
Better Decisions with the Ball
Some are going to criticize Barkley, saying that he isn't an elite level talent and will point to last year's numbers to prove it. No, 16 interceptions is never a good thing when looking at a potential quarterback for the next level, but a lot of this had to do with poor decision making and forcing passes, which isn't really a talent issue. This is simply believing in yourself a little too much and trying to hit a homerun on each and every play.
These are things that can be fixed and must be addressed if Wittek wants to learn from Barkley's mistakes.
Here you see USC in a shotgun set, with both wide receiver Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor split wide up top. Both are going to run vertical routes, while Stanford is going to drop back a linebacker in the slot, a cornerback on Agholor and a safety (circled) over the top.
When the ball is snapped, Barkley looks to his left and then immediately locks on Agholor on the right side of the field. The problem with this this is that the freshman receiver was just jammed towards the sideline by the Stanford cornerback (can't see due to the scoreboard in the way) and should have no longer been a target on this play. You can also see Lee running free in the middle of the field (square), who would have been the much more logical option.
Instead, of course this play resulted in an interception, which happened to be his second on the day. This play has to make you cringe as a USC fan because Lee happened to be open and Agholor was not. If throwing to the young receiver is what Barkley truly wanted to do, he would have had to put the ball near the sidelines, giving only his receiver a chance of catching the football.
Unfortunately, bad decisions and trying to do too much was a common theme last season and helped not only contribute to the Trojans failures, but force people to question the type of quarterback Barkley really is.
This now brings us to Wittek. While there is very limited film out there on the young man, there was a play against Hawaii earlier in the season that showed great decision making.
USC lines up in an I-formation, and will be running a bootleg-play action pass rolling towards the right side of the field.
As the play is developing, the commentators are discussing his strong arm, and Wittek looks desperate to show it off, as he is looking down field for a big play. He goes through his progressions, buys as much time as possible but nobody has managed to get open. Does he force the ball down field anyway like many young quarterbacks would?
Nope. Wittek ends up stepping out of bounds for a gain of three yards and lives to see another play. It would have been easy for him to force the ball into coverage and see what happens. USC had a comfortable lead of 39 points and even a turnover wouldn't have done much to the team's chances of losing the game. However, making the right choice in getting what he could get showed good maturity and solid decision making.
It wasn't a flashy play and won't make any highlight films but it was the correct play. As long as Wittek can continue to make the proper decisions and limit his mistakes, this USC offense will be better off, and he will have a better season than Barkley had a year ago.
Step Up in the Pocket
Barkley shows good pocket presence and does a really good job of keeping his eyes down field. The thing that would drive you nuts with him is that he isn't the most athletic quarterback, and he would have a difficult time of escaping or even stepping up out of pressure.
Take a play against Oregon from the 2010 season for example. USC is lined up in a single-set back formation. Now the Ducks are going to send pressure, but the Trojans offensive line does a tremendous job of picking up the extra men, giving Barkley more than enough time to make a decision with the football.
Barkley has now had a few seconds to make up his mind. He can either throw the ball away, step up in the pocket to buy himself maybe an extra second or two, or he can continue to be a statue in the pocket and wait for No. 56 (circled) to absolutely knock him into another zip code.
Obviously this play resulted in a bone-crunching hit, as Barkley not only held onto the ball far too long, but he also didn't bother stepping up in the pocket or trying to avoid the pressure. The positives where that he was able to hold onto the football and managed to peel himself off the field, but this play could have been avoided by stepping up. At the very least, the play would have resulted in a no-gain, instead of a loss of six yards.
Barkley will never be considered an athletic quarterback and shouldn't be mentioned in the same conversation as a Johnny Manziel, but it doesn't take much to move your feet and step up to avoid the pressure. This can't be blamed on a poor offensive line like some of the 2012 seasons failures should be, this is simply an immobile quarterback at his worst.
Wittek has already done a solid job of showing he is more athletic than Barkley, by running boot-leg plays and moving around in the pocket. If he can continue to buy himself more time, stepping up to avoid pressure and once in a while hurting defenses with his legs, the USC offense will benefit greatly and avoid a lot more negative plays.