Since the USC Trojans have a bye this week, let’s take this time to take a look at some of the issues that have kept the Trojans from completely dominating their opponents so far. Today, we will look at the Offensive line and the running game—or the lack thereof.
In five games, the Trojans have really only established a running presence in their game against the Utah Utes. That week, Marc Tyler came back after a month-long suspension and beasted his way through Utah’s defense for 113 yards (USC had 152 total rushing yards in that game). Since then though, Tyler hasn’t produced the way a feature back is expected to, and none of the other tailbacks—Curtis McNeal, D.J. Morgan, or Dillon Baxter—have been given enough opportunities to replace him.
It’s hard to say whether the O-line is responsible, since they have done a fairly respectable job of protecting Matt Barkley. Opposing D-lines have gotten to Barkley just 4 times, the least amount of sacks in the Pac-12 South. It could be argued, however, that this speaks more of the less talented defenses (other than ASU) that the Trojans have faced than it does of the talent that USC has. Not to say that USC’s O-line isn’t talented, but they certainly have been underwhelming thus far. Through five weeks, no one has emerged as the definite starter at either Guard position.
Freshman Aundrey Walker had been getting reps at right tackle with the first team going into the game against the Wildcats, and three different left guards have seen playing time (Ju-Co transfer Jeremy Galten, FR Marcus Martin, and JR Martin Coleman). Marcus Martin has been the most consistent starter, but his lack of experience shows. USC only returned two starters on the line—left tackle Matt Kalil, who is an absolute beast, and Center Khaled Holmes—but this is Holmes’ first season at center. So in reality, only ONE lineman has actual experience at his respective position. They have gotten better in five weeks of game play (marginally), but as USC gets to more challenging opponents, the O-line will make or break the offense.
Now, back to the tailbacks situation. It is debatable whether Marc Tyler should be the starting tailback at all. On one hand, he is the biggest, most experienced back that USC has. When he is on his game, he lights up defenses and always pushes forward for the extra yards. On the other hand, he hasn’t been consistent. But who would be a better replacement?
Dillon Baxter just doesn’t do it for me; the heir to Reggie Bush dances too much behind the line of scrimmage and it has still yet to be determined that he has grown up and is ready to be a contributing factor for the Trojans. When he has gotten touches, he has done absolutely nothing with them. It’s very rare that you see a scat back as the feature back in a successful pro-style offense, and his body probably isn’t up to the task of 20-25 touches at the college level just yet. Coming into USC he was a highly touted recruit as a change of pace back, but so far he has done nothing to back it up, save a now infamous practice run. Maybe if he were given more chances, he would be the star that everyone says he is capable of being, but that is a high risk-possibly low reward situation.
D.J. Morgan looked like he might be a contender, but his running style is one that’s very fumble prone, evidenced by the fact that he’s fumbled the ball in consecutive games. As anyone who follows USC knows, Lane Kiffin does not play around about ball security. For that reason, I am not sure if we’ll even see Morgan again this season, much less see him competing for the starting tailback position.
This brings us to Curtis McNeal, the only legitimate contender for the starting spot. In fall camp McNeal was the clear favorite, but hurt his knee in one of the scrimmages and then Tyler returned, which changed the game. Even so, McNeal has made big plays in each game that he has been given the opportunity, sometimes more than Tyler has. Against Arizona, Tyler had 11 carries for 35 yards, while McNeal only had 7 carries but garnered 74 yards for himself. He is averaging almost 10 yards per touch, while Tyler is only averaging 4.7.
Yet Tyler is still the starter.
All logic and reason would tell you to start McNeal, but the USC coaching staff hasn’t done it yet.
Maybe during the bye, Lane Kiffin & co. will review game tape, and see that the starting tailback is who they thought it was all along: Curtis McNeal. Or maybe, they will figure out how to utilize both Tyler and McNeal in a productive, efficient way. With the declaration of a true feature back and the reduction of carries for the others, offensive line play should improve, as they can focus on the running style of whom they block for. To ask an offensive line to adjust so much to so many different running styles on top of worrying about the opposing defense is asinine, and we’re seeing the results on the field in run blocking vs. pass blocking. Only through focus will the offensive line be able to gain the skill to adjust.
And let’s all pray to whomever it is that we all pray to, that they figure out what to do to get the O-line in sync. We also can’t forget that the team is still without a viable blocking back, with the loss of Stanley Havili. Everyone knew about his receiving skills, but his skills as a blocker have been sorely missed, and we’re now left hoping that a true blocking back emerges on campus to help the running game establish itself. Without that, the rest of the season is going to be a major, MAJOR headache.
Tomorrow, we will look at another reoccurring issue for the Trojans: The Secondary.
T-9 days till the next football game!