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What the USC Trojans Absolutely, Positively Must Accomplish Against Wazzu

Rick McMahan@@RickMcMahanSenior Writer ISeptember 24, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach Pete Carroll and Matt Barkley #7 of the Southern California Trojans leave the field after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 18-15 on September 13, 2009 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A week after the "Debacle in Seattle," the Trojans once again find themselves in an altogether too familiar position.

Trying to find answers to prevent themselves from repeating the same mistakes against what will be improved competition, in hostile environments, from here on out.

After this week's tune-up against the Cougars, the Trojans roll into Berkeley to meet the No. 6 Bears and their all-everything running back, Jahvid Best.

Following that game, the Trojans will be on the road for four out of the five next weeks, including stops in South Bend (Notre Dame), Eugene (Oregon), and Tempe (Arizona State), to go along with the aforementioned visit to the Cal Bears.

The main question the Trojans must find an answer for is in the passing game, which has been almost nonexistent this year.

In three games USC has completed three passes of 15 yards or more.

So a cure for the anemic passing game must be found this week against the Cougars.

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The return of Matt Barkley, USC's sore-shouldered quarterback, is a step in the right direction.

Or is it?

Even if you throw out the horrible debut of Aaron Corp last week against the Huskies, there were still serious questions about the Trojans' downfield vertical passing game.

One of those questions is, "Where is it?"

When Ronald Johnson ("RoJo" as he is known to his friends and teammates) went down in the spring game with an injury, it effectively removed the only proven deep threat the Trojans had in their arsenal.

In the three games the Trojans have played this year, that deep threat, the one that forces opposing defenses to keep their safeties from stacking the line of scrimmage, has been nowhere to be found.

Despite this, the Trojans' running game has been quite effective.

Imagine how good it could be if the Men of Troy had a vertical passing game that their opponents respected.

Now with the looming brutal schedule, it is essential that the Trojans find that deep threat somewhere.

But where?

Johnson won't be back for at least two weeks, and when he is, he will need to shed the rust of not playing.

So now what?

Travon Patterson is probably the fastest of the remaining wide receivers, but he hasn't played much in his three years at USC, and you have to wonder why.

That leaves Joe McKnight.

McKnight has the speed and the soft hands to become a factor in a downfield vertical passing game, and he has been used in this capacity before by Pete Carroll and the Trojans.

So I look for McKnight to become far more involved with the passing game and maybe less so with the running game.

A consistent Joe McKnight in this capacity will do wonders for the Trojans offense.

However, there is yet another problem the Trojans may face: Matt Barkley's shoulder.

Is it even healthy enough to throw downfield?

With Corp's extremely shaky performance in Seattle, Barkley's return became critical, and when Carroll announced his return, most of the Trojan faithful breathed a sigh of relief.

Yet if Barkley's shoulder this week won't allow him to throw deep, the efforts to stretch the defense go for nought.

While this Saturday's game is the one that Barkley needs to hone his throwing prowess, the game against the Cougars at the Coliseum is not in question in regard to a Trojan victory.

No, it is the following week in Berkeley where the Trojans must find a way to become something other than the one-dimensional offense they have been this season.

Without both a solid running game AND an effective passing game, the Trojans will be in for a long game against the Bears.

So the Trojans absolutely, positively MUST answer this question this week against the Cougars.

Will Matt Barkley and a new deep threat in the passing game provide that answer?

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