With the 2013 season at its midway point, Daily Trojan columnists Will Laws, Nick Selbe, Euno Lee, Nick Burton, Jacob Freedman, Jake Davidson and Luke Holthouse weigh in on USC’s performance thus far.
Q: How would you grade the offense’s performance through the first half of the season?
Laws: B-. The stable of running backs — led by redshirt sophomore Tre Madden and freshman Justin Davis — has looked fantastic. Things have improved in the passing game since redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler took over as the full-time starter under center, but the team can still utilize its tight ends far more effectively than they have been.
Lee: C-. Kessler is coming along nicely and is sure to make more strides as the season progresses. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton seems a little more willing to throw the ball downfield with interim head coach Ed Orgeron at the helm. The Trojans also need to make more use of the outside gaps with the runners who can make those cuts and do a better job of getting the slot receivers and tight ends involved. Also — more Justin Davis. One can never have too much of Justin Davis.
Q: How would you grade the defense’s performance through the first half of the season?
Burton: B. I would have given them an A before the games against the Arizona schools, but then the defense gave up 612 yards against ASU and 508 against Arizona. That’s more than half of the total yards USC has allowed all season, in just two games. The performance of the secondary at the end of the Arizona game was not just bad, it was flat-out unacceptable.
Laws: B-. The defense started off like gangbusters by leading the nation in sacks for the first few weeks and stopping Boston College tailback Andre Williams in his tracks, but this unit has fallen off considerably. The Trojans have been exposed by competent spread offenses in ASU and Arizona.
Q: Who has been the team’s MVP so far?
Burton: Sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams. The fact that he is tied with redshirt junior linebacker Hayes Pullard for the most tackles on the team shows how freakishly athletic and explosive Williams is. Williams also has 3.5 sacks and a team-leading 7.5 tackles for loss.
Davidson: Madden. When healthy, he is a complete back and has been the steadying force on the team. His balance and vision have been the two most impressive attributes so far. In a conference loaded with great tailbacks like Washington’s Bishop Sankey and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, Madden has made a name for himself thus far.
Lee: Madden. He’s an absolute workhorse and can catch the ball out of the backfield or on short routes, and he makes Kessler’s job so much easier.
Q: Who has been the most surprising contributor to the Trojans?
Freedman: Redshirt senior linebacker Devon Kennard. Unless you count Davis and freshman safety Su’a Cravens, talented newcomers who many expected to contribute immediately, there have been few surprises so far. We saw in 2011 the talents of Kennard, but defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defensive scheme has unleashed the beast. Kennard is strong, quick and has the handwork to mince opposing linemen to stop run plays and terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
Selbe: Madden has surprised me the most so far. He drew rave reviews from the coaching staff last season before tearing his ACL, and after a long offseason spent rehabilitating and adapting to playing running back, I did not expect him to have anywhere near the season he’s been having. He deserves to be mentioned among the Pac-12’s top playmakers.
Q: Who has been the biggest disappointment?
Burton: Redshirt senior cornerback Torin Harris. It’s not really fair to use the word “disappointing,” because I don’t think much was expected of him coming into the season. But his play has been extremely sub-par so far this season, and I feel like almost every time the USC secondary gets burned for a big play, he’s the back in coverage.
Freedman: Junior wide receiver Marqise Lee. The secondary as a whole has underwhelmed considerably, but Lee came into 2013 looking to build on his All-American 2012 campaign. Rather than help lead an inexperienced offense, he’s dropped the ball (literally). The physical talent and ability is still there, but Lee’s preseason goal to not drop any balls has been unfulfilled, to say the least.
Q: How would you grade the team’s season thus far?
Laws: C. Before the season started, I expected this team to be 5-1 entering this week’s matchup against Notre Dame. So it’s hard to be too tough on the Trojans. But the way in which each loss came about — one of which featured complete incompetence on offense, the other highlighted the team’s defensive inefficiencies — is what’s truly concerning as USC heads into the brunt of its schedule.
Freedman: C+. The quarterback struggles early on cost USC the game against Washington State, but the team has also struggled with missed tackles, too many penalties and critical dropped passes. The 4-2 record isn’t awful, but the two losses were to less talented squads. USC’s only semi-impressive win was at home against Arizona, a middling Pac-12 team, which means the Trojans receive barely above a passing grade, considering the expectations at USC.
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