Matt Barkley, Robert Woods.
By now, you’ve heard those names plenty of times, after both broke USC single-game records against Minnesota last weekend in its season home opener.
Sophomore wide receiver Woods recorded 17 receptions for 177 yards and three touchdowns and the junior signal caller, Barkley, completed 34-of-45 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Basically, the two were responsible for 18 of USC’s 19 points.
Other than those two, I, along with USC coach Lane Kiffin might agree that nobody else on offense really showed up. When the Minnesota defense took away Woods, the USC offense stalled and was shut out in the second half.
The Trojans’ offense did not have a running game.
Kiffin decided to put the ball through the air, calling a pass play 45 times out of USC’s 73 total offensive plays, which is more than 60 percent.
What about that deep backfield raved about in fall camp? Out of junior Curtis McNeal, sophomore Dillon Baxter, redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan and freshman Amir Carlisle, only Morgan and McNeal saw significant playing time. Baxter had one reception for three yards and Carlisle didn’t even sniff the playing field.
But after the game, he mentioned playing this style of ball wasn’t to his liking.
“It’s not really fun to play the game that way so spread out and balls going all over the place,” Kiffin said after the win against Minnesota. “It just gets you out of rhythm. It’s not the normal ’SC rhythm of running the ball and play-action.”
With the pending return of senior running back Marc Tyler on Saturday, all that could change fast.
Remember those days with Lendale White and Reggie Bush? They weren’t nicknamed “Thunder and Lightning” or “Smash and Dash” for no reason.
With those two in the backfield, it opened up the play-action pass to guys like Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.
Fast-forward to 2011 and you could see similar results. Give Tyler carries to soften up the front-seven, get Baxter, Morgan or McNeal out in space to let him operate a la Reggie Bush and watch that Barkley/Woods combination go to work.
Though Morgan is listed as the starter, if I were Kiffin, I would give Tyler the featured role. Heck, I’d even start him.
Last year in the eight games Tyler started, he totaled 134 rushes for 625 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. That’s 4.7 yards per carry and 78 yards per game for a USC offense that averaged 26 points per game.
Though just looking at one game, the USC offense clearly wasn’t the same on Saturday. Other than the bad snap by junior center Khaled Holmes, The Trojans totaled just 99 yards on the ground, averaged 3.9 yards per carry and didn’t record a rushing touchdown.
Let’s face it: Morgan probably won’t be able to handle 18-20 carries game in and game out. Running hard through the tackles isn’t going to make up for a lack of size, especially in short-yardage situations.
But that’s another asset Tyler brings to the table.
What clearly was missing Saturday was someone who the Trojans could turn to in third-and-short situations. USC could have used Tyler in situations where it needed three yards or less to convert a first down.
On Saturday, I remember seeing all of McNeal — yes, that’s all 5-foot-7, 180 pounds of him — line up in the backfield on third-and-two at the Minnesota 44-yard line. He was dropped behind the line for a loss of two yards.
In the third quarter with USC at the Minnesota 20-yard line in a fourth-and-one situation, Kiffin elected to go for the first down rather than kick a field goal.
The result? Morgan was stopped at the line and USC turned the ball over on downs.
Two chances to get first downs, two missed opportunities to keep the drive alive and possibly score more points.
With Tyler last season, the Trojans were 10-of-15 on short-yardage situations on third down and three yards or less. In other words, they converted 67 percent of those plays into first downs.
Though it’s easy to second-guess, Tyler’s return is exactly what this USC offense and team needs; they need somebody to run the ball down the teeth of the defense and alleviate some pressure off Barkley’s arm and Woods’ shoulders.
By now we’ve heard all the speculation about Tyler and his status.
With his return, it should give USC a much-needed boost in the backfield.
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