Despite returning nine starters, USC’s offense will have a distinctly new look when the starting unit is introduced Saturday.
Although true freshman Matt Barkley has stolen the headlines, the Trojans’ offense will also shuffle in new starters, most notably at running back.
USC coach Pete Carroll announced earlier in the week that junior Joe McKnight would start at running back, earning the third start of his career. Redshirt junior C.J. Gable was USC’s most frequent starter last year but shared carries with McKnight and senior Stafon Johnson. Redshirt junior Allen Bradford is also expected to figure into this year’s rotation.
“We’re going to have a lot of talent back there, and that’s a good problem to have,” said quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who enters his first year as USC’s playcaller. “They all have a special role.”
Carroll praised McKnight at his Tuesday press conference for his versatility but also reiterated that the tailback rotation would work itself out.
Johnson, who led the team with 738 rushing yards on a team-high 138 carries last year, said he wasn’t discouraged by the decision.
“I’ve only been the starter for one game in my career, so it doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “I don’t really know what the coaches are going to do, so you just have to be ready when the opportunity comes.”
Barkley, who was not made available to the media on Wednesday, looked sharp throughout most of the practice. He connected with projected starting receivers redshirt junior Damian Williams and redshirt junior David Ausberry repeatedly throughout the day.
His lone error came at the end of the 11-on-11 session, when sophomore cornerback T.J. Bryant jumped a route and intercepted a pass.
Despite Barkley’s inexperience, Carroll said Barkley would have the same freedom to audible plays that past USC quarterbacks have had. But the freshman will not be able to call any play at will.
“There are options within each play and concepts that guide the choices they have,” Carroll said.
Saturday will also be Bates’ official debut to the collegiate game. Past USC playcallers, such as Norm Chow, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, have all been the subject of much fan speculation. But having served as the playcaller for the NFL’s Denver Broncos last year, Bates was confident that he would be prepared for the demands of the position.
“This is a game of entertainment, and fans pay a lot of money to go to the games, so they’re going to have their opinions,” Bates said. “But we’re focused and can’t listen to the distractions.”
The Trojans received a verbal commitment on Wednesday from one of the top senior high school football players, wide receiver Kyle Prater from Proviso West High School in Illinois.
Prater, who is ranked as the No. 2 player in the country by Rivals.com, announced his decision at his high school. Verbal commitments are nonbinding until a player signs a letter of intent, but ESPN.com reported that Prater plans to graduate in December and enroll at USC for the spring semester.