Through two games, we’ve seen plenty of the USC offense, but it’s been a vanilla offense. Yes, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods have excelled in the first two games, but Matt Barkley’s passes have been considerably conservative, and the senior hasn’t attempted a single pass to a receiver not named Lee or Woods. What gives? Perhaps it’s an act of gamesmanship on behalf of Lane Kiffin to prevent Stanford from drawing up a gameplan to stop USC’s aerial attack.
Despite the November 3rd Oregon game being circled by fans and pundits alike, for the players and coaching staff, this Saturday’s game against Stanford is the biggest game on the docket, given the epic three overtime battle last season that saw USC come up just short. Considering that USC hasn’t beaten Stanford in four years and have lost four of five, it would make sense for Kiffin to put all of his effort into beating Stanford.
One way of trying to stop Stanford’s attempt at slowing down the Trojans is to make sure that Stanford can only watch film of the most basic passing offense the Trojans can conjure up, which constitutes to there being an incredible amount of bubble screens throw to the receivers.
Matt Barkley leads the nation in touchdowns by three, an incredibly wide margin after two weeks of games, but statistics show that the Heisman contender is not picking up the yards he did last season, due to the different style of play calling.
In the last 67 passes that Barkley has thrown, which only removes the 75-yard touchdown pass to Marqise Lee on a bubble screen on the very first play of the season, Barkley has averaged just 7.22 yards per attempt. Compare that to the last eight games of the season in 2011, when Barkley picked up 8.1 yards. Despite catching 11 passes on Saturday, the second most in his career, Lee had just 66 receiving yards to go with his three touchdowns, showing further proof that Kiffin has dialed back the passing attack and call safer, shorter passes from Matt Barkley.
The Trojans are not just running plenty of screen plays, they’re continuously picking up small chunks of yardage each time, nickel-and-diming defenses. Typically, screens are called to set up further strings of plays, in hopes of getting safeties to play up to the line of scrimmage and present chances to throw the ball deep down field or over the middle in general.
Yet on Saturday, Kiffin didn’t mix in the play-action and ended up calling passes over the middle just five times. Of the five, two resulted in touchdowns, another got six yards and a first down, while the last was intercepted on a significantly under-thrown ball from Barkley, despite Robert Woods having a couple of steps on his defender. Then there were two reverses which worked beautifully for the Trojans, picking up 99 yards.
If USC was able keep on setting up creative plays with a barrage of screens, why were they called so few times? The only plausible explanation is Kiffin’s hopes of masking the passing offense.
And it becomes more likely, when you factor in that Barkley hasn’t targeted George Farmer, Nelson Agholor or De’Von Flournoy at all in the two games played. For a camp that was so dominated by the story surrounding who would be the No. 3 receiver, it’s baffling as to why Agholor has been repeatedly used as a decoy, while the other two rarely see the field.
If the Trojans come out firing against Stanford on Saturday, using Agholor and Farmer, you’ll know for certain that it was a ruse. If not? Well, then Lane Kiffin has lost a little bit of his reputation for being an aggressive play caller. Scratch that, a lot of that reputation.