The Trojans played their worst game of the year in Palo Alto against the Stanford Cardinal and the final score reflected it. The Trojans looked out of sync for 3 quarters and it cost them a win. There is a chance that it cost them at shot at the national championship and it could have also cost senior quarterback a Heisman Trophy. The national title and Heisman are still attainable team and individual goals, but it will be an uphill battle.
Let’s take a look at how the offense graded out against the Cardinal.
Quarterback Grade: C-
Barkley started the game the way many of us expect a quarterback of his talent to. He spread the ball around to 6 different receivers in his first three series. On the second series, the Trojans jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the strength of a 49 yard pass play to Nelson Agholor over the middle.
Barkley wasn’t much the same after that. He stopped spreading the ball around, seeing open receivers, and tried to force the ball into Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. In the first half, Barkley was 5 for 8 when throwing the ball to players not named Woods or Lee. He was 11 for 20 for 2 INTs when trying to throw to Woods and Lee.
In the second half he only completed 38% of his targets to Woods and Lee. For the game he targeted these two players 25 times in his 41 attempts. The 5 other players he threw the ball shared 16 attempts.
Barkley has the spread the ball around to be an effective quarterback. As good as Woods and Lee are, they lose their effectiveness if defenses can roll coverage their way and make Barkley hold the ball. If he carves teams up in the middle of the field and spreads the ball around, this makes it harder on the defense.
Running Back Grade: D
Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd carried the ball 20 for 54 yards. That is a very un-Trojan like 2.7 yards per carry. If you take away the 30 yard run that McNeal had to close out the first half, they had 24 yards on 19 carries and 1.3 yards per carry. In either case, they didn’t get the job done. Redd did have both of the Trojans’ touchdowns but he also turned the ball over on a fumble in the second quarter.
Some of their poor performance has to do with those upfront not getting their job done. Some of it has to do with Lane Kiffin making the running game an afterthought even before the Stanford game. Running the ball is an attitude and the Trojans haven’t put an emphasis on that attitude this season despite have two 1,000 yard backs in the backfield.
Through 3 games in 2011, the Trojan running backs accounted for 425 yards. So far this year they have accounted for just 315.
Offensive Line Grade: F
The offensive linemen did a horrendous job of run blocking and pass pro this last game. They couldn’t open holes or provide push in the running game. Barkley got put into the turf numerous times even when he was able to get the ball away and was sacked 4 times 21 yards.
There are 4 of 5 starters from last year who did an outstanding job of protecting Barkley and opening up holes in the running game in 2011. This unit looks very unfamiliar, not just against Stanford but through all 3 games. Some of what happened at Stanford can be blamed on center Khaled Holmes missing the game due to injury but it is deeper than that.
They also haven’t been helped out by Kiffin’s play calling. After calling 18 running plays in the first half, he only called 6 in the second half. This is a defensive lineman’s dream. All they want to do is get to the quarterback and if you take away their responsibility to defend the run – they are all geeked at that point. Kiffin should have called more running plays to slow the pass rush and help his line out. Even if the run wasn’t effective, it makes them defend it.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Grade: C-
Marqise Lee (8 for 100) and Nelson Agholor (3 for 77) had pretty solid games, but Robert Woods struggled catching only 4 balls for 38 yards. Tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble combined for 5 receptions for 39 yards.
The biggest issue is that Barkley doesn’t seem to believe he has other weapons at his disposal. It becomes more challenging to defend every part of the field. Right now defenses have only had to defend the outside receivers.
Kiffin should consider two tight end formations with a single back, attacking the middle of the field with Grimble and Telfer. Moving either Woods or Lee into the slot to get a mismatch on a 3rd corner or a linebacker should also be looked at.
Emphasizing the running game will also help the aerial attack when you can mix in play action. It almost seems as Kiffin has been calling plays not to lose the Heisman for Barkley instead of calling plays to attack the defense on every level. Every level of the offense seems out of whack.
Let’s take a look at how the defense graded out against the Cardinal.
Defensive Line Grade: F
When you give up 213 yards on the ground there is no way around it, the front four just did not get the job done. The unit that had been the stars of the defense through the first 2 games, played horrible against the Cardinal. They were getting blown off the ball for most of the game and missed some gap assignments that left creases for Stepfan Taylor to run through.
Linebackers Grade: C+
The linebackers played a slightly above average game led by Lamar Dawson’s 10 tackles and Dion Bailey’s 9 tackles to compliment his 3rd INT of the year. Hayes Pullard chipped in another 7 tackles.
Despite the high tackle numbers, the linebackers did play over aggressive at times in an effort to compensate for what was happening with the front four. Overflowing gaps and leaving cutback lanes for Taylor to slide through was also an issue.
Pass coverage became problematic due to the effectiveness of the run. In an attempt to sure up the run defense, the linebackers bit hard on the play action, leaving a void for the tight ends to operate in.
Secondary Grade: C+
Coming off a horrible game against Syracuse, cornerback Torin Harris played an extremely solid game. While he found himself often times covering a much larger tight end, he rose to the challenge and defended well.
To be fair the Cardinal did not try much to push the ball to receivers. The Cardinal receivers caught a total of 3 passes for 26 yards. So overall the secondary did get much of a challenge in pass coverage but Jawanza Starling did manage to snag an interception from Josh Nunes.
Overall this is not the kind of defense that you would expect from a Monte Kiffin coached unit and is not the way the team can afford to play defense.