Aaron Corp Emerging as Starting QB

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IApril 19, 2009

Though it’s still unofficial, Aaron Corp seems to have a sure grip on the starting quarterback job for the Trojans. I would expect Pete Carroll to announce Corp as the starter either before or immediately after next week’s Trojan Huddle that will conclude spring practice.

Corp emerged in today’s practice again with a perfect slate—zero interceptions. At USC, where the mantra is "It’s all about the ball," a goose egg in the INT slot is as important as any of the other statistics.

But Corp has those as well. He was 13-of-18 for 170 yards. Although he did not throw for a TD, he did lead three scoring drives—a first-half, 22-yard Jordan Congdon field goal, a second half outstanding four-play, 88-yard scoring drive capped by a Stafon Johnson four-yard TD run, and, with time running out, an eight-play, 35-yard drive, ending in another Congdon field goal.

His main rival this spring, freshman Matt Barkley, actually had the edge statistically, except for one particular statistic that makes Carroll wince. Barkley was 15-of-18 for 186 yards and two TDs. Unfortunately, one of those TDs was to defensive end Malik Jackson who took it 42 yards back to the house.

Barkley was 5-of-6 in his first drive that went 75 yards in 14 plays, finishing with a Joe Houston 23-yard field goal. In the second half, Barkley went 6-of-8 on a nine-play, 70-yard drive, utilizing both wideouts Jordan Cameron and the sure-handed Brice Butler. The drive ended with Barkley tossing to Cameron for a 15-yard score.

Mitch Mustain, 3-of-6 for 33 yards, also led a TD drive, but his other drives were marked by indecision. His one TD drive was a six-play, 46-yard march that ended with a five-yard Curtis McNeal student body right set up by a 20-yard strike to wideout Damian Williams.

Mustain’s first drive was a three-and-out that ended in an Averell Spicer sack. In his last turn under center, Mustain threw a near interception. Middle linebacker, Chris Galippo leapt high into the air but could not hold on.

Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler shared the load at running back. McNeal had 10 carries for 62 yards and a TD. Tyler ran for 49 yards on nine carries. Corp took off five times for 33 yards and a couple of first downs. Stafon Johnson saw limited action with five carries for 14 yards and a TD.

Damian Williams had an All-American kind of day with four catches for 129 yards. Jordan Cameron and David Ausberry had four catches each. Cameron picked up 49 yards and Ausberry 26. Fullback Stanley Havili and wideout Ronald Johnson had three catches each, picking up 32 yards and 29 yards respectively.

I will discuss the Trojan defense in another report, but right now I would like to return to the quarterback competition.

One of the things that has been mentioned about Crop is that he has played it rather conservative this spring. My own rap against him is the fact that he has settled for field goals after engineering drives into the red zone.

That happened again in his first drive of the day. After leading the first team offense inside the 10, he went three-and-out, settling for a 22-yard Congdon field goal. What is worse, he had a pass tipped at the line. Corp caught it himself and scrambled for a short gain. But it could have been a disaster.

However, in the second half, he answered my own doubts as well as many of his critics, airing out a picture perfect 46-yard bomb to Damian Williams to set up a score. That followed a 34-yard strike to Williams.

So, the kid does have an arm. Make no mistake about that. And we knew all along that he had legs and could turn the corner as well as any spread quarterback around. But I’m sure what Carroll likes most about him is that he takes care of the football. In Corp’s own words: "I take what’s there."

That’s still a lesson young Barkley has to learn. One good thing is that he and Carroll both have plenty of time. Carroll doesn’t have to make a decision on redshirting Barkley until the third game of the season.

Meanwhile, Mustain still hasn’t learned the lesson and still hasn’t learned the offense. At least he doesn’t appear as though he has learned it, and he doesn’t have plenty of time. He needs to cutout the indecision and play with more conviction by the time fall camp rolls around.

Deciding to transfer to a Division 2A school won’t help Mustain. He doesn’t need playing time. He needs to show NFL scouts he can command a pro-style offense.

Many have pointed to Matt Cassel’s success in the NFL after playing backup to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. But Cassel and Leinart were neck-and-neck in competing for the starting role. With Corp, Barkley, and Mustain, it’s not even close. Mustain is the odd man out by a huge margin.

One reporter has lamented that Mustain has gotten "the short end of the stick" in the quarterback competition.

Nonsense! Corp and Barkley do not lead scoring drives every time they step behind center. But they move the ball!

They rack up first downs, which in a real game enables the Trojans to control field position, and enhances the defense’s ability to get the ball back. But Mustain’s drives have wound up in numerous three-and-outs. So, of course, he isn’t going to put up the numbers the other two are putting up.

Today for example, he had one drive where he took a sack, then threw a tipped ball that should have been intercepted right into the middle of the line, and on third down took another sack. On another drive he was third-and-forever. If you want to get the reps, you need to move the ball!

So, that’s where things stand on offense as the Trojans complete their third week of spring practice. Look for my next report on the State of the Defense coming shortly.


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