With his announcement this afternoon that Matt Barkley will be USC’s starter (and not just for one game), Pete Carroll effectively ended the offseason’s most intriguing quarterback race. Check that, the only intriguing quarterback race.
This means that one of the most talented teams in the country is (largely) placing its annual dreams of winning the national title in the hands of a true freshman. Read that sentence again. That takes balls, people.
Say what you will about Petey and his willful ignorance to most of what is going on around him, but the man is not risk averse. Carroll could have relied on Aaron Corp, the more seasoned, albeit recently injured, third year sophomore. Apparently, that is not going to work.
So, what does this mean for the game on Sept. 12? From a game perspective, not much really. Ohio State fans would be foolish to think that Barkley is anything less than he is billed.
That has always been the case with USC quarterbacks in the Carroll era. No matter who was going to start for the Trojans in week two, Buckeyes’ fans had to assume that an NFL-caliber player was going to be under center.
What this situation really creates is Jim Heacock’s worst nightmare. After every single game, four out of five Ohio State fans grumble and decry Heacock and co. for not blitzing enough. I hear it all the time.
With Barkley only having four live quarters (at most) under his belt before stepping onto the space-age syntho-turf of Ohio Stadium, that low din will become a roar.
I can hear it now: "They need to blitz Barkley every down!" "Bring seven men every snap!" "There is a no way a freshman can handle that!"
To me, this is the opposite and wrong reaction. It’s been a long time since Ohio State has been a great blitzing team. OSU linebackers are not often molded to be edge rushers or mercenaries from the middle.
There is nothing wrong with that. Most teams don’t have those players; it is certainly no condemnation of the scarlet and gray. The resulting defensive rankings bear that out.
More importantly, Barkley’s coronation does nothing to change the importance of Ohio State’s defensive line. I stayed up late last night watching the 2006 Ohio State vs Michigan game, during which the defensive line played a great game, slowing Michigan’s offense (at least in the first half).
Ditto for the 2003 Fiesta Bowl against Miami and last year against Texas. Both Michigan and Miami were brilliant play-action offenses, just like USC, and the defensive line made a difference in those games.
The Trojans have a great offensive line and smart coaches. If OSU thinks they can blitz their way to a win, they will get burned.
Just because there is a freshman quarterback in there does not mean their line will forget how to block. In fact, it may invigorate them.
The goal has always been for the OSU defensive line to get pressure on [insert USC quarterback here] without lots of tricks, allowing the back seven to concentrate on USC’s pass attack and staple of runners.
I do agree with the argument that a freshman is more likely to make a mistake in the face of pressure, but I don’t think that pressure has to be a manufactured blitz every down.
Barkley is being asked to do a lot (perhaps too much) and I think he is just as likely to make a mistake because of a well disguised coverage as he is in the face of a blitz. Hell, you know the coaches preach throwing it away if there is significant heat.
I am not saying Ohio State should never blitz, but I am certainly not advocating wholesale changes to the defensive gameplan because of the experience level of the starting quarterback.
If USC is going to trot out a brand new QB, Ohio State should continue to do what it does best in 2009: unleash the defensive front four and stop the run. If anything, that plan should be even more effective with Barkley in there.
Of course, like the rest of you, I could stand to see a bit more press coverage.
[Author's note: The decision to start Barkley effectively ends the career of Mitch Mustain and one of the most curious choices in recent memory. This result is even more frustrating because he has to watch Damian Williams thrive every week.]