USC Football: Sputtering Trojan Offense Must Work Around Marqise Lee Injury

Kyle KensingContributor IOctober 1, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Marqise Lee #9 of the USC Trojans warms up before the game against the Utah State Aggies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 21, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

USC Trojans junior wide receiver Marqise Lee's status is in doubt after he suffered a left knee injury in the second half of their Week 5 loss at Arizona State. 

With Lee in question, so is the outlook for a USC offense already ranked No. 100 with the pass among Bowl Subdivision teams. 

Lee told Rahshaun Haylock of he hopes to return after the upcoming bye week.

But, as coaching responsibilities shift after the firing of Kiffin, contingencies for Lee's absence must be made, as well as a game plan to make more effective use of the talent around him if he's available. 

Lee is the far-and-away focal point of the sputtering passing game, with 30 receptions. Sophomore Nelson Agholor is the only other wide receiver to break into double-digits with 11 catches. 

Clay Helton's first duty in taking over play-calling duties is finding a way to integrate the receivers and tight ends with or without Lee. 

That forces redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler out of his comfort zone. 

"Cody can do some things well, other things he's not ready to do," interim head coach Ed Orgeron said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "Obviously we want to keep it simple, but we need to move the ball around and put it in different players' hands." 

Helton was ostensibly the offensive coordinator under Kiffin, though the former head coach took on playcalling responsibilities.  

Orgeron suggested that would not pose a problem for the offense moving forward. 

"[Helton]'s the most qualified guy on the staff," he said. "That was a toss-up with Lane...he didn't know if he was going to call plays or Clay was."

Helton was offensive coordinator at Memphis before joining Kiffin's staff as quarterbacks coach in 2010. His Tiger offenses were balanced, but favored the rush.

In 2008, Memphis averaged over 190 yards per game on the ground. 

With the primary receiving weapon questionable and USC struggling to pass as is, Helton may need to go even heavier on the rush than the Trojans have through their first five games. 

"One of the things we need to do is play to our strengths," Orgeron said. "We have two good running backs, and hopefully we get [senior running back] Silas [Redd] back soon." 

Redshirt sophomore running back Tre Madden has more than capably filled the primary rushing role for the Trojans with Redd sidelined. 

Madden is the team's No. 2 receiving option thus far, with 12 catches. He had a pair of touchdown receptions against Arizona State and will continue to be a key cog in the passing game. 

As for Redd, each week has brought a similar prognosis that ultimately results in him not playing.  

If Lee's optimism proves more fruitful than Redd's, Week 7 would certainly be an opportune time for the wide receiver to be in the lineup. 

Lee abused the Arizona secondary last season, setting a conference record with 345 yards on 16 receptions and two touchdowns.

Another record-breaking effort is unlikely, if for no other reason than the youngster Kessler is not a veteran Matt Barkley.

Nevertheless, Lee's proven success against the Wildcat defense suggests Arizona could be the opponent against which the junior finally regains some of his 2012 form. 

And a breakout game is big for Lee's NFL draft, former scout and analyst Bucky Brooks writes in his notebook

More importantly for USC, Lee having his first dominant performance of 2013 could be a catalyst for finishing what has been a tumultuous year strong. 

Otherwise, this offense is left with far more questions than answers. 


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.