USC Football: Eight Reasons Why Matt Barkley Can Beat Andrew Luck
The USC Trojans host the Stanford Cardinal on Oct. 29 during Week 9 of the 2011 college football season. This will be a featured game between two of the favorites from the Pac-12 South and North divisions, both led by their junior quarterbacks and preseason Heisman candidates.
Barkley is the undisputed leader of the USC football team. He is the only returning team captain and he has been leading the Trojans' winter workouts.
These teams last met on Oct. 9, 2010 at Palo Alto, when Stanford won 37-35 on a last-second field goal after their timekeeper manipulated the time clock several times and the referees ignored it.
Yahoo Sports called this one of the five worst calls of 2010. This win helped Stanford realize a 12-1 record with a 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
USC finished behind Stanford in third place in the Pac-10 with an overall 8-5 record. Three plays kept the Trojans from an 11-2 record. USC was handicapped with only 71 scholarship players due to NCAA sanctions and this created depth problems, affecting practices and games.
The 2011 game should be another close one. But this time Stanford won’t have its own timekeeper and the Pac-12 referees have been upgraded.
Both teams have holes to fill, but USC should be a stronger team and Stanford a weaker one compared to 2010. Here are the reasons that Matt Barkley can beat Andrew Luck.
1. Coaching Staff Changes
USC had a new coaching staff in 2010, and there were a lot of lessons learned. Challenges included not only learning the players’ capabilities, but also implementing a different defensive scheme that proved too complicated much of the season.
There is only one significant USC coaching change in 2011. Nebraska coach Ted Gilmore replaced John Morton as the wide receivers coach on Feb. 24. He has more experience coaching and he was also the recruiting coordinator for Nebraska, which will help the Trojans.
USC may have the best recruiting corps in the nation, but many of them are inexperienced so this change is an improvement.
USC graduate assistant/tight ends coach Keary Colbert left the Trojans to return to the NFL, so administrative assistant Justin Mesa will take over. Senior Rhett Ellison is expected to start at tight end, so this change will have no impact.
Stanford, however, has lost head coach Jim Harbaugh who deserves the credit for the Cardinal's success the past two years. He is replaced by David Shaw who was the offensive coordinator/running backs coach. But Harbaugh also took three of the best Cardinal coaches including Greg Roman (associate head coach), Vic Fangio (defensive coordinator) and Tim Drevno (offensive line).
They were replaced by Pep Hamilton (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks/receivers), Mike Sanford (running backs), Derek Mason (associate head coach/co-defensive coordinator), Jason Tarver (co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers) and Mike Bloomgren (offensive line/running game coordinator). The tight ends coach is still vacant. Hamilton and Mason were promoted from within and Sanford, Tarver and Bloomgren were outside hires.
These coaching changes will impact Stanford in 2011 because Stanford lost four of its best coaches, with an overall reduction in coaching talent.
2. Rebuilding the Offensive Line
Both USC and Stanford have to replace three offensive linemen. However, the offensive line is much more critical to Stanford than USC.
Jim Harbaugh’s unit played with “character and cruelty” and that started up front. It will continue that way with David Shaw. Stanford is a power-running team and they must establish and control the line of scrimmage.
While Luck is a great quarterback, his performance was significantly improved due to a great offensive line in 2010.
The Cardinal must replace All-American center Chase Beeler and two other starters, but they will have All-Pac-10 first teamer David DeCastro and Jonathon Martin returning.
The 2010 offensive line was the best in the Pac-10 with four returning starters that had paved the way for Toby Gerhart to claim a runner-up finish in the 2009 Heisman Trophy race. So this change is going to affect the Cardinal offense.
USC’s offensive line was inconsistent in 2010, and it is no surprise that QB Barkley played well when the OL was better during the first two-thirds of the season. Depth problems wore down the starters who also played with injuries as the season progressed. Barkley had to rush passes and he also was injured and had to sit out a game. Barkley also played with a high-ankle sprain.
USC’s top-four 2011 recruiting class added five offensive linemen including two junior-college transfers, Jeremy Galten and David Garness, who are attending winter workouts and spring practices. Several new OL are highly-touted Audrey Walker and Cyrus Hobbi. The Trojans have two returning starters in Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes, but they also have some good returning players in Kevin Graf, John Martinez, Martin Coleman, Abe Markowitz and Giovanni Di Paoalo.
So the Trojans may not be as strong as Stanford on the OL, but they now have the depth and talent to get much better.
However, the inexperience will likely hurt the Trojans and the Cardinal during the early part of the season. It may hurt the Cardinal more because they are so dependent upon a dominating OL.
But the USC-Stanford game is during Week 9 so both lines should be better by then.
3. Reload Receivers
Stanford lost its two leading receivers, Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen. With Chris Owusu sitting out, those "new" receivers include Griff Whalen, Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell (each is at least a third-year player). The Cardinal also have so much talent at tight end that there is the option to use a "big" out wide.
USC lost Ronald Johnson, the second-best receiver to freshman Robert Woods—the Pac-10 freshman offensive player of the year. Fullback Stanley Havili was the third-leading receiver and he also left for the NFL.
But the Trojans are loaded at wide receiver and tight ends. Starting tight end Rhett Ellison returns and there are two outstanding redshirt freshmen and one sophomore tight end. Wide receivers include Woods, senior Brandon Carswell, Markeith Ambles, De’Von Flourney, Kyle Prater (6’5”) and incoming outstanding freshmen George Farmer, Victor Blackwell and Marqise Lee.
Woods and Prater are expected to start, but Farmer is even faster than Woods. Farmer has a NFL body as a freshman and impressive talent. Carswell will also see a lot of playing time with Ambles and Flourney contributing. USC also has a talented freshman fullback in Soma Vainuku who has very good hands and who is bigger than Havili.
Stanford led the Pac-10 in 2010 in the most explosive (over 20 yards) passing plays with 48 and USC only had 36. But the superior USC receiving talent and the weakened Stanford OL will give the Trojans the advantage in 2011.
4. Defensive Changes
USC had a horrible defense in 2010, especially against the pass. Stanford was second in the Pac-10 in 2010 in giving up the fewest explosive (over 20 yards) passing plays with 29 and USC was last with 44.
The Trojans defense was impacted by a lack of depth and experience, and a new defensive scheme. The defense was more effective at the end of the season. USC has great defensive coaches including Monte Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Joe Barry and Willie Mack Garza.
USC will have a much better defense in 2011 with an outstanding defensive line led by starters Christian Tupou (2009), DaJohn Harris, Nick Perry, Armond Armstead and Wes Horton. Kevin Greene and George Uko will also contribute.
Safeties will include starter T.J. McDonald with Marshall Jones, Drew McAllister, Jawanza Starling and Dion Bailey (may move to linebacker) battling for the other spot. Cornerbacks include starter Nickell Robey with T.J. Bryant, Tony Burnett, Torin Harris, Patrick Hall and Anthony Brown competing for the other spot.
The Trojans coaching staff has learned its lesson from 2010 and will keep the defense simpler to allow the better USC athletes to respond.
Stanford has to replace seven starters on defense including NT Sione Fua, DE Brian Bulcke, LB Owen Marecic, LB Thomas Keiser, CB Richard Sherman, SS Austin Yancey, and FS Taylor Skaufel. The loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was responsible for the improved Stanford defense in 2010, will also hurt the defense.
5. Special Teams Is Key
USC may have the best special teams coach in the nation with John Baxter. He significantly improved the Trojans special teams in 2010 and fixed any weaknesses by recruiting the best field-goal kicker, punter and long snapper.
USC had more blocked kicks in 2010 and that is expected to continue. The Trojans excelled at returning punts and kickoffs also.
Robert Woods is back to return kickoffs and fast freshman George Farmer will also upgrade the Trojans kick returning. Nickell Robey and D.J. Morgan ran sub-4.4 40s in recent contests, and they can also contribute.
Few teams will have better special teams than USC, and Stanford is not one of them. The Trojans special teams may be the difference in this game.
6. Running Backs
Stanford has returning starter Stephan Taylor who rushed for 1,137 yards last season, but they will also have three or four other RBs contribute. The Cardinal must replace starting FB Owen Marecic.
USC has returning starter Marc Tyler who rushed for 913 yards on only 171 carries, sophomore Dillon Baxter, junior Curtis McNeal and redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan. Freshman Soma Vainuku is a very capable replacement for Stanley Havili, and he is expected to be a better blocker which will help the running game.
Both teams should run well but Stanford may be more consistent.
7. Quarterback Skill
Stanford’s Andrew Luck was a Heisman finalist in 2010 and had an outstanding season with a 170.16 rating, 3,338 yards passing, 32 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 70.7 completion percentage. This was a significant improvement over 2009.
He had the advantage of perhaps the best offensive line in the country, and that won’t be the case in 2011. Stanford also lost its backup QB, and now has only two redshirt freshmen to battle for this spot.
USC’s Matt Barkley had a very good 2010 season and he was ahead of Luck early in the season. However, the performance of the offensive line and a high ankle sprain caused his production to fall off. He ended up with a 141.18 rating, 2,791 yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 62.6 completion percentage in one less game than Luck.
Barkley has to decrease interceptions and avoid sometimes missing open receivers to be better than Luck.
Barkley is the undisputed USC team leader. He is the only returning captain and has been organizing and leading the Trojans winter workouts. He is well respected by everyone on the team, and contributes in many ways as a leader of this team.
The performance of Luck and Barkley will be affected by their OL and receivers. USC has the better receivers and Stanford the OL.
The Trojans have lost three out of four to Stanford, and two of them were heartbreaks. USC is hungry for revenge and this will be a home game.
Stanford may be undefeated and a higher-ranked team when they play the Trojans. But it was the same way in 2010 when the Trojans lost 37-35 due to the Stanford timekeeper who gave the Cardinal enough extra time to get the last-second field goal.
The contributions of incoming freshmen have not been factored much into the performance of each team. USC had a top four recruiting class and Stanford was No. 21 in Rivals. So the Trojans figure to benefit from their incoming freshman and junior college transfers more than Stanford.