USC's football program must feature a ground-and-pound strategy on offense this season.
Fans have been spoiled the past few seasons with Matt Barkley penciled in as the starting quarterback. One of the best signal-callers in the nation, Barkley led a potent aerial assault that was capable of humiliating opposing defenses.
The All-American is now getting his feet wet at the NFL level with the Philadelphia Eagles, however, and to this point head coach Lane Kiffin has yet to name a starting quarterback with the season fast approaching.
Highly recruited freshman Max Browne is no longer being considered for the job, as noted by Lindsey Thiry of Fox Sports, and Kiffin will now choose between third-year sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.
Kiffin finally announces the quarterback race is down to Kessler and Wittek. Browne is out of it. #usc— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) August 12, 2013
Neither quarterback has much experience. Between the two of them, Wittek and Kessler have attempted just 71 career passes. Of those, 69 are credited to Wittek, who started two games last year.
Wittek appears to have an edge based on the fact that he filled in for Barkley last season as a true freshman. A 4-star prospect coming out of high school, he possesses prototypical size and arm strength to run a pro-style offense.
No matter which quarterback ends up winning the starting job, however, USC's offense will likely struggle to produce the same kind of numbers through the air that it did under Barkley—even though Marqise Lee is undoubtedly one of the nation's premier offensive weapons.
Though Barkley didn't possess the greatest arm strength, he understood the game at a level that most college quarterbacks—and many professionals—can't match.
The best way to help inexperienced quarterbacks is by complementing the passing game with a strong rushing attack.
Even with so many players injured or recovering from injury, USC still has the talent—both on its offensive line and at the running back position—to produce consistently on the ground.
And there is an unheralded player who is making a strong case for playing time this year, as noted by Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times:
Nearly every scholarship tailback at USC has either been slowed by injury during training camp or is being protected as they return from injury.
Then there is Javorius "Buck" Allen...he has been the Trojans' most productive tailback, carrying the load in practices and in last week's scrimmage.
The tools are there for Kiffin's offense to soften up defenses with a punishing running game, and the best part is that such an approach would only make the team's passing attack more explosive.
There's nothing more demoralizing for a defense than giving up big chunks of yards on the ground.
Establishing an effective running game would force opposing defenses to dedicate a safety to the line of scrimmage. This would inevitably lead to big opportunities in the play-action passing game, where Lee's explosive playmaking abilities would shine.
How often should USC run the ball this year?
On the other hand, a pass-first offense would potentially exasperate the potential for a high volume of turnovers, which Wittek already showed a propensity for (five interceptions) in his two starts last season.
Winning games at any level usually goes hand in hand with winning the turnover battle.
Running the ball isn't as sexy as putting up jaw-dropping numbers in the passing game. However, it's the best way to ensure USC has a chance to win games this season as a new quarterback is introduced into the team's offense.
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