USC Trojans Vulnerable: FIve Reasons They Will Lose Three Games This Year

Jon EllsworthContributor ISeptember 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans smiles on the sidelines during the game against the San Jose State Spartans on September 5, 2009 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  The Trojans won 56-3.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

USC came back in impressive fashion to defeat Ohio State in the Horseshoe Saturday night.  The late-game drive was defining for the team.  It showed their toughness and resolve to get together and get a win.

Unfortunately, it showed their weakness as well.

That late-game drive against a questionable Ohio State defense required that Joe McKnight put the team on his back and carry the Trojans to the one-yard line, where Stefan Johnson could polish it off. 

Where was Matt Barkley?  He contributed on third and long on their own side of the field, and he threw a gimme flare route to McKnight to pick up 21 yards.  The next time he threw, he floated a strike to his tight end Anthony McCoy in the seam for a large chunk of 26 yards, really the only tough throw he had to make in the drive.  He hit one more pass, a slant for eight yards.  Finally, he hit Joe McKnight on a bubble screen to go ahead by three.  Not a bad line—4 for 6 and 55 yards passing on the final drive.

However, I'm not so optimistic.  Joe McKnight accounted for 72 yards of the scoring drive, receiving and rushing.  What's wrong with that?  The rushing yards came too hard all day for the Trojans:

3.0 yards per carry over the course of the game.

The passing yards came without ease as well:

15 of 32 for 6.1 yards per completion.

Conclusion:  The offense is broken.  Well, maybe not the offense, but the new offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, has a ways to go to fill recent shoes.  And I leave Lane Kiffin out of the list of shoes to fill.

That last drive had some imaginative playcalling, with specific calls to exploit the defense.  That didn't happen all game.  It was like watching an SEC matchup where each coach is simply trying to prove how hard their offensive line can push the other.

The playcalling was generally so entirely predictable and bland for a USC team that it was hard to imagine this team competing for a national title.  They looked like an SEC team—great defense and inability to consistently move the ball. 

This is glaringly different from years of yore at USC.  Some other problems facing the Trojans:

  • Too many zone running plays on first down, and not enough play action, screens, or quick shots to get the wide receivers one-on-one on the sideline.
  • Too much running at an 8-9 man box, not enough play action.
  • Too little QB movement.  Barkley is an obviously athletic QB, but he did not move around much and felt the heat because of it, not to mention tweaking his shoulder in the process.
  • Too few quick passes.
  • No examples of exploiting a defense, at least not until the fourth quarter, third and eight on their own 19-yard line and Joe McKnight easily gets past the linebacker coming up to cover him.  That was a gimme pass.
  • Too much defense—the defense was out on the field for way too long.  Ohio State actually began to formulate a way to get down the field after a while there.  No defense can play that much and survive unbeaten. 

In the end, Pete Carroll was on camera all over the offensive playcalling.  Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was predictable and unimaginative with the talent he has control of. 


So, on to the point of this article:

Three games the Trojans have a good chance of losing:


September 19, at WASHINGTON

Watch for previous OC Steve Sarkisian to wear the USC defense down and put up points.  Also, former USC Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt knows the USC D inside and out.  It could be a barn burner.


October 3, at CALIFORNIA

Cal looks silly good so far.  But they are doing damage mostly on the ground.  That could play to USC's strength.  But if USC's defense can't get off the field and the offense can't score, look for Cal to wear down USC and run away with it.


Either October 17 at NOTRE DAME, November 28th vs. UCLA, or December 5 vs. ARIZONA

Notre Dame is obviously much improved and just might come out to win.

UCLA could come in and surprise the Trojans in the battle of the L.A. basin, though QB woes for the Bruins make that less likely.

Arizona should be good this year and could ambush USC at the end of the year.


Why could USC drop these games?

1.  Offensive production is suspect for the reasons listed above: The coordinator and his strategy are suspect.

2.  Expect the defense to play more snaps, take more hits, and give up more points.

3.  The opposition is up this year.  Competition is greater.

4.  Matt Barkley will, and I mean will disappoint.  It's not his fault, he's simply made some very, very stupid mistakes already, and I think he'll make a few more before USC switches to Aaron Corp midseason.

5.  Finally, like I mentioned before, USC looks like an SEC team—strong defense, bland offensive play-calling.  They are predictable and ripe for the picking.

Being a lifelong USC fan, I think this year will be infuriating, like I felt 2007 was with John David Booty starting for Lane Kiffin, while Mark Sanchez waiting in the wings.  USC is like any other school, though.  Coaches have their politics; they have their favorites.  No matter what you read about USC this year, and especially this week, do not believe the hype.