SEATTLE — When the Trojans defeated the Huskies on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, it marked the halfway mark of USC’s regular season. USC stands at 5-1, with that lone loss coming at the hands of Stanford. Of those six games, the Trojans played just two at home, meaning that four of their last six will be played at the friendly confines of the Coliseum.
The season hasn’t necessarily gone as planned for the No. 11 Trojans; everyone was expecting a team that was going to score 50 points a game and blow out opponents. Nevertheless, the Trojans are still in the title hunt and control their own destiny. With six games left, here is what we have learned:
Marqise Lee is USC’s best player
With no offense to senior quarterback Matt Barkley, who is having a solid season (16 touchdowns, six interceptions), sophomore receiver Marqise Lee is the best player on this year’s USC team.
Lee is by far the team’s best playmaker: He makes people miss every time he catches a pass. He is also clutch: He makes plays when the offense is struggling, best exemplified by his 83-yard touchdown grab against Utah. And perhaps most importantly, he is a team player: He throws crushing blocks for fellow wide receiver Robert Woods on screens. He does not complain when the ball isn’t thrown his way. And, he plays special teams, returning kickoffs with the best of them.
I wrote earlier this season that Woods was still USC’s top receiver, and I’ll stick to that. In terms of being a pure receiver with great hands and superb route running, Woods is top dog. But as a football player and playmaker, Lee is second to none.
Silas Redd is the featured back
Though senior Curtis McNeal does get a fair share of carries, the job belongs to junior running back Silas Redd. Redd got his first start of the season against Washington and responded with a 155-yard performance, including a 57-yard dash on USC’s first offensive play. Going into the season, it looked as if the two backs would split carries 50-50; that does not look to be the case anymore. Redd has gotten the bulk of the carries the last few weeks, and with Saturday’s performance in Seattle, I think he solidified himself as “the man” in the backfield.
The defensive line is the defense’s strongest unit.
Led by junior sack master Morgan Breslin, the Trojans’ defensive line has wreaked havoc on opponents. Saturday was the perfect example, as the unit sacked Washington quarterback Keith Price five times, 1.5 of which came from Breslin. As a team, the Trojans have 22 sacks. Freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams, sophomore defensive tackle George Uko, senior defensive end Wes Horton and Breslin have been playing great football over the last few weeks. When senior defensive end Devon Kennard went down, many thought this was the weak link for USC, but that has not been the case. They’ve held up their end of the deal.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Matt Barkley
This is the most important thing to take out of the season thus far. Barkley was expected to put up massive numbers given the fact he threw 39 touchdowns in 2011. It hasn’t gone as everyone expected, but Barkley has still put up modest stats. He has 16 touchdown passes, meaning he is on pace to throw more than 30 again. Yes, he has six interceptions in 2012, which everyone is making a fuss about because he threw just seven last year. People forget, however, that through six games last season, Barkley’s touchdown:interception ratio was 16:4; The numbers from 2011 and 2012 are almost the same.
A lot of Barkley’s so-called struggling is because of playcalling. Quite frankly, Barkley hasn’t really had many chances to make plays down the field. The Trojans have been conservative, opting to run the ball and throw screens rather than try for huge chunks of yardage. This hasn’t allowed Barkley to get into any sort of rhythm, and that lack of rhythm has led to inconsistency.
It is also safe to say that in 2011, although he only threw seven interceptions, there were several others that could have been intecepted. It isn’t farfetched to say he really probably threw 11 or 12. So when you look at it, the numbers aren’t on pace to be that different from last year.
He hasn’t had many “great games” where he has thrown six touchdowns, but he has been solid. And most importantly, he is willing to use an audible to run plays when his passing game isn’t there. He is a selfless player, and allows the team to run the ball as much as they need to. If the playbook opens back up, his numbers will soar.
USC has a long way to go
Anyone who has watched this team plays knows it is far from perfect. The offense has been stagnant at times, and the defense, which has looked good for the most part, has given up big plays to let teams back into the game. The special teams have been inconsistent as well, with sophomore kicker Andre Heidari missing more field goals in six games this year than he did all of his first season. They commit a lot of penalties and have mental lapses. They really have yet to play a complete game. But the pieces are there for them to make a run.
There is no single reason that the Trojans can’t win the rest of their games, but they are going to have to clean things up if they want to hold that crystal ball in January.
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