High school signing day on February 2 is still over six weeks away and the USC Trojans are doing very well with 16 committed recruits plus six early enrollees who have already signed, with more expected soon.
The two junior college and four high school early enrollees will be available for spring practice and do not count against the 20-scholarship limit* for 2011.
USC is rated near the top in football recruiting and is likely to end in the top five again with a much larger class (up to 30 new scholarship athletes) than past years.
But, USC needs offensive linemen (OL) more than any other position and the numbers to date have been disappointing. So far, there are only three offensive linemen who have committed: David Garness (signed) and commits Marcus Martin and Cody Temple.
The Trojans are loaded with a great quarterback, receivers and running backs. However, these skill players cannot execute if they don’t get the blocking to open holes or give the QB time to find open receivers.
If the offense cannot maintain drives and use up the clock, then it puts too much pressure on the defense, which also spends too much time on the field. This usually leads to a defensive breakdown in the second half.
The defense will be much better in 2011, as discussed in "USC Football: 2011 Trojans Will Be Led by QB Matt Barkley and Better Defense."
But, no USC team has ever done well without a good OL including backups. So something needs to change for a successful 2011 season.
After practice on Oct. 21, Lane Kiffin said that due to personnel in 2011 season, the Trojans may install a spread offense.
Kiffin told Gary Klein of the L.A. Times, “Look at what we have. We’ve got a bunch of really good receivers and backs and tight ends and we don’t have a fullback on our roster that’s on scholarship two months from now.”
Let’s review the following to understand what this means two months later:
- Returning OL athletes
- Current OL commitments
- Recruiting OL athletes
- USC starting OL in 2011
- USC spread offense
*The NCAA appeal decision is likely to be after the February 2 signing day, and USC has appealed five of the 10 scholarship reductions for 2011. So, there will be 20 scholarships available.
Returning OL Athletes
Starting center Kristofer O’Dowd and guard Butch Lewis graduated.
Then USC lost two key OL: first team All-Pac-10 Tyron Smith to the NFL and late-season starter Michael Reardon who is rumored to have quit due to a chronic hip injury.
Here are the USC OL returning scholarship players:
Matt Kalil: RS (redshirt) junior tackle, starter; should be starter and solid contributor in 2011.
Khaled Holmes: RS junior guard (may switch to center), starter; should be starter and contributor in 2011 but needs to reduce false starts and holding penalties.
Kevin Graf: RS sophomore tackle/possible guard, coming off injury with no starting experience; possible starter in 2011.
Abe Markowitz: Walk-on RS sophomore center, coming off injury with no starting experience; possible contributor in 2011.
John Martinez: RS sophomore center/guard with no starting experience; possible starter in 2011.
Gio Di Paolo: RS freshman center/guard with no starting experience; possible contributor in 2011.
Martin Coleman: RS senior tackle, chronically injured with no starting experience; probable non-contributor in 2011.
The lack of OL is due to poor recruiting in recent years in this area when Pete Carroll’s coaching staff deteriorated.
So, this leaves the Trojans with only two returning starters and four possible contributors. There are three starting positions that remain to be filled. That is very hard to do with new recruits unless they are very good and learn quickly.
USC thought they had a starter with junior college (JC) transfer Aaron Douglas, who said that he would sign with the Trojans in the fall, then unexpectedly switched to Alabama just after JC signing day.
Current OL Commitments
The three OL commitments so far are:
Marcus Martin: freshman guard, underrated prospect who is physically ready; possible early contributor.
David Garness: junior college transfer junior tackle, may have technique issues; probable immediate contributor.
Cody Temple: freshman center, probable redshirt.
Recruiting OL Athletes
The Trojans continue to recruit the following OL players (and others) for 2011:
Cyrus Kouandjio: tackle, Hyattsville (D.C.). After his official visit to Alabama, Kouandjio noted his concerns about competing with his brother, Arie, for playing time. Then Arizona Western Community College offensive tackle Aaron Douglas committed to the Tide. Alabama is also leading for the commitment of Nashville (Tenn.) offensive tackle Antonio Richardson. Kouandjio will visit USC in January. Top schools are Alabama, New Mexico, Miami, USC and Iowa.
La’El Collins: tackle, Baton Rouge (La.). High school teammate 4-star running back Jeremy Hill recently decommitted from LSU. Hill makes no mention of looking at USC, but his teammate Collins has already officially visited Los Angeles. Collins' last visit went to Auburn, who recently landed the commitment of Thibodaux offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Top schools are LSU, USC and Auburn.
Christian Westerman: tackle, Chandler (Az.). Committed to Texas, but with the departure of OL coach Mac McWhorter he is welcoming other colleges and is expected to visit USC.
Troy Niklas: tackle, Anaheim (Ca.). Top schools are Notre Dame, Stanford and USC.
Ryan Nowicki: tackle, Glendale (Az.). He rated USC 10 out of 10 after unofficial visit on Nov. 27. He has many offers from top schools.
Antonio Richardson: guard, Nashville (Tn.). He has many offers from the top schools.
Torian White: tackle, Lakewood (Ca.). Committed to UCLA, but will visit USC.
Miles Mason: guard, Torrance (Ca.). Junior college Dec. grad with offers from SMU and USC.
Paulay Asiata: guard, Honolulu (Hi.). Offers from Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon State, UCLA and USC. No official visits yet.
The Trojans will do well to sign three OL from the above list. Only a few could potentially start, but that should make USC attractive to them.
USC Starting OL
It is unlikely that any freshman or junior college transfers could start, but they could provide needed depth. A potential starting lineup is:
LT: Matt Kalil (David Garness backup)
C: Khaled Holmes (Gio Di Paolo or Abe Markowitz backup)
RG: John Martinez (Marcus Martin backup)
RT: Kevin Graf (Martin Coleman or freshman backup)
It is a decent starting group depending on the TBDs, but not as good as last year’s OL, which faltered the last half of the season.
USC Spread Offense
The strength of the team is QB Matt Barkley, the best WR group in the nation and good running backs and tight ends.
The WRs include Pac-10 Freshman Offensive Player of Year Robert Woods, RS freshman Kyle Prater, freshman (5-star commit) George Farmer, junior Brice Butler, senior Brandon Carswell, sophomore De’von Flournoy and freshman (4-star commit) Victor Blackwell.
Running backs include senior Marc Tyler, sophomore Dillon Baxter, RS freshman D.J. Morgan and junior Curtis McNeal.
Tight ends include seniors Rhett Ellison and Blake Ayles, and RS freshmen Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. It may be necessary to move Grimble to the OL.
Freshman Soma Vainuku and possibly commit Charles Burks are the only FBs, and neither have any experience.
The OL will have new starters in three of five positions and inexperienced backups. The fullbacks are new and have no experience. The OL should be able to pass protect. But, USC will not be able to sustain a pro-style offense based on establishing the run to open up the passing.
Spread offenses do not require the lineman to hold their blocks very long or the physical domination that power-rushing attacks do.
So the Trojans will be forced to heavily depend on a modified spread offense. USC will become a "pass first, pass often" team. The Wildcat can still be used occasionally with Baxter and Tyler.
Quarterbacks coach Clay Helton ran a spread passing attack at Memphis as offensive coordinator, so that will help the Trojans make the change.
QB Matt Barkley is not a great runner, so how will USC use the spread effectively? Well, he operated out of a spread-like system in high school and would be extremely comfortable doing so again
The zone-read option used by teams like Oregon won’t work for the Trojans.
USC will use a modified spread offense with Barkley primarily operating out of the shotgun with four and five receivers. Think also of the Arizona State Sun Devils, who use the spread with a non-rushing quarterback.
There is a risk that Barkley could be injured more easily with this offense, but he is a tough athlete.
The spread offense should open up multiple vertical seams for both the running and passing game to exploit, because the defense is forced to spread itself thin across the field (a "horizontal stretch") to cover everyone.
The success of the 2011 USC Trojans will depend on the OL, and the coaching staff’s ability to implement the changes necessary to take advantage of the team’s strengths.