Quarterback Grade – B+
Matt Barkley has completed 67.6% of his passes for 559 yards to go with 10 TDs and only 1 INT. He has looked in total control of the offense and on occasion barked as his receivers for not running the right routes.
The problem is that he isn’t spreading the ball around. When you have receivers such as Marqise Lee and Robert Woods it is very tempting to get them the ball every time you drop back. However, your passing game becomes more effective if you pressure the defense to cover the whole field.
With the focus that defense put on defending Woods and Lee, there should be ample openings down the seam for tight ends and slot receivers, out in the flat, and various other intermediate routes. As it stands now, Woods and Lee have 37 of Barkley’s 46 completions through two games. That means only 9 balls have found their way to the hands of the tight ends, slot receivers, and running backs.
Running Backs Grade – Incomplete
It is hard to give a grade to the dynamic duo of Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. Of the 127 offensive snaps, the top two running backs have a combined 40 carries. If you throw in the two receptions they split, you are talking about 42 touches between them. To put this another way, they have touched the ball only 33% of the team’s offensive snaps.
Redd and McNeal have combined for 236 yards on 40 carries, an average of 5.9 ypc, but the running game has been a huge afterthought through the first two games. If the Trojans are going to compete against SEC defenses, known of their stout defensive lines, they are going to have to establish the run. They can’t be a one dimensional offense and expect to have any measured success.
Wide Receivers Grade – B
Robert Woods and Marqise Lee certainly get an A+ but we have yet to get answer on depth. There is certainly loads of talent in the receiving corps but talent unrealized is just wasted talent. It is hard for that third receiver to step up without any targets. When Barkley drops back to pass he most certainly is looking for either Woods or Lee. The more and the earlier that third option is developed, the better chance the offense has to succeed in tough games.
There may be times, however unlikely, that neither Woods nor Lee is open. If there is another reliable option which would allow Barkley to get rid of the ball sooner, that is what needs to be done. Holding on to the ball lends itself to sacks or unnecessary hits on Barkley which could open him up to injuries.
Woods and Lee have combined for 398 yards on 37 receptions. What is shocking is their pedestrian 10.75 ypc on the season (12.5 ypc for Lee and 8.4 ypc for Woods). Those are possession receiver type averages which you wouldn’t expect for receivers that possess the talent that these two have. Granted their lowly averages are mostly the work of Lane Kiffin’s obsession with the wide receiver screen against Syracuse.
Tight End Grade – Incomplete
So far the tight end position has a combined 4 receptions. They have been great blockers in the running the game but have been non-existence in the passing game. Their absence in the passing game is not their fault; this is the result of Barkley force feeding Woods and Lee.
Last year this position combined for 63 receptions. At this pace they will be lucky to get to 30. There are some huge mismatches to be had here as both tight ends are at least 6’ 4” and can fly. They are great athletes and should be utilized more in the passing game.
Offensive Line Grade – A
Barkley has been sacked only once this year and the ground game is averaging 6.1 ypc so far. The biggest question mark coming into the year was Aundrey Walker. Walker is replacing all world tackle Matt Kalil and so far has done a decent job so far. He still has some growing to do and at times has seemed to miss his blocking assignment. At other times he has mauled defenders and has shown the potential he has.
I would like to see Kiffin call more running plays so the unit can establish a physical dominance and the nasty mean streak that it takes to be a great offensive line.
Defensive Line Grade – A
This was supposed to be THE question mark on defense coming into the season. Initially it was thought that just both the defensive tackles were going to be replaced. In fall camp Devon Kennard was lost for the season and Wes Horton was lost for the Hawaii game. It turned out that the defensive line were all first time starters in Week 1 and that same unit started in week 2. Horton returned in Week 2 but played minimal snaps.
The line has accounted for 31 tackles, six sacks, and 10.5 TFLs. By comparison the line only racked up 29 tackles, 2 sacks, and 6 TFLs. This illustrates that they are getting after the quarterback and changing the line of scrimmage.
There was a drop off in the second half of the Syracuse game but this was more the result of Syracuse getting the ball out quicker to nullify the Trojans’ pass rush.
An argument can be made that through the first two games, Morgan Breslin is the MVP of the defense.
Linebackers Grade – B
With Lamar Dawson missing the Hawaii game and playing sparingly against Syracuse, there was a bit of a shuffle of the lineup. Hayes Pullard was moved to middle linebacker and Anthony Sarao took his place at the weakside backer position. Dion Bailey stayed at the strong side backer.
Pullard has played great in the middle; combining with Bailey for 29 tackles, three INTs, 3.5 TFLs, and one TD. Sarao has been pretty quiet with five tackles and one sack but has gained valuable playing time as a redshirt freshman.
Look for Dawson to return to the starting lineup this week and solidify this unit
Defensive Backs Grade – C
This has been proven to be the weak link in the defense. This weakness was covered up by an overwhelming performance by the defensive line in the Hawaii game and the first half of the Syracuse game. Once Syracuse made adjustments to get the ball out quickly to nullify the rush, Anthony Brown and Torin Harris were attacked with great success at the corner spot opposite of Nickell Robey.
In 85 pass attempts, the secondary has only one INT thus far to go with two passes defended and one pass break up. All of these numbers come from reserve DBs Josh Shaw and Brian Baucham.
The starters are going to have to pick it up was the Trojans move into conference play. The Pac-12 is a pass happy conference and in order to get off the field there is going to be a need for an INT or a pass break up.
An adjustment needs to be made opposite of Robey. That answer may be moving Shaw to corner or it may be better play out of Brown and Harris. The adjustment could also come in the form of rolling coverage to that side to help out, but this leaves Robey on a complete island.
It is better that these things show up now and the Trojans have been able to win while learning some of their shortcomings. Let’s see if the Trojans’ coaching staff has scouted their own team and made the necessary tweaks to get to that next level.