USC Football Roundtable: Grading the Trojans Through Four Games

September 15, 2012; Stanford, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin (center) instructs his team during the third quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal defeated the Trojans 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

It’s a bye week for the Trojans, which means a great opportunity for reflection. We decided to have some staff roundtables this week, so to start, it only seemed right to grade USC’s performance to date.

Trenise’s Grade: B

The Trojans haven’t been terrible, but by no means have they been great, either. This was supposed to be their big welcome back party, the season where they assert themselves at the top of the polls week in and week out and so far we have not seen that consistently. USC closed the season strong in 2011 and it alluded to the great things that would come in 2012, with the majority of its veterans returning. Lane Kiffin snagged Silas Redd out of the ashes of the Penn State scandal, and USC once again had a two-headed beast on the ground. Aside from the first game though, the Trojans have no won their other two victories with style, and they absolutely fell apart against Stanford on the road. Matt Barkley had looked flustered and has at times gotten out of sync with his receivers, and it has been frustrating.

On the good side, when the Trojans have been on, they look excellent. Silas Redd is coming off a big game against Cal where he really showed just how elusive and powerful of a running back he is. Curtis McNeal also put in work and both left the field as proud members of the 100-yard club. Marqise Lee and Robert Woods continue to show why they are the best wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12, burning opponents for big yards and showing that they are also pretty good blockers when need be. And don’t even get me started on the Trojan defensive line: watching JuCo transfer Morgan Breslin come off the edge and eat quarterbacks is just as spectacular as Barkley dropping bombs on opposing defenses. Though he is new to big time NCAA football, he certainly is not new to working hard and playing with grit, and his presence in the defense surely is a blessing for the Trojans who lost Devon Kennard to a pectoral injury. Dion Bailey and Jawanza Starling have been getting after balls, each having at least one pick respectively in consecutive weeks. The cornerbacks still have some issues to work out, but they have not been a major thorn in USC’s side except against Syracuse.

The Trojans are playing with a newly rekindled anger after having lost to Stanford, and I expect them to bring their A-game from here on out and remind the nation why they were the favorite to go all the way.

Alicia’s Grade: B-

The season thus far has been nothing like I expected. The offense has underachieved, while the defense has overachieved. Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have struggled while Morgan Breslin and the defensive line look like world beaters. Unsurprisingly on a team with limited depth, injuries have been devastating.
It would be easy to give a lower grade. After all, the Trojans lost a game they shouldn’t have lost and have struggled with two teams they should not have struggled with. Matt Barkley has not consistently played at a Heisman level. Robert Woods, who has been limited in practice, seems out of sync and isn’t producing at a high level. The offensive line got shown up at Stanford. Finally, Lane Kiffin doesn’t seem to have the offense clicking through his sometimes questionable play-calling.

However, for all the negatives there are plenty of positives. Silas Redd is what we’d hoped he’d be, and it’s proven that he and Curtis McNeal can share the load. The offensive line bounced back from a dismal display against Stanford to dominate a good Cal defensive line, producing 307 rushing yards. The inexperienced defensive line has been an unexpected strength and is seventh in the nation in sacks. TJ McDonald and the defense have held teams to an average of 17 points per game. Marqise Lee is having an explosive season (that one big drop against Cal excluded). All in all, the Trojans performance thus far has been good, not great.

Michael’s Grade: C+

The Trojans haven’t played anywhere near to the level they closed the season at last year. Now, on the surface that’s not a concern because it took six games to get there last year. But for me, what makes the start less than a ‘B’ grade is that SC is perfectly content with letting the opposition dictate games right now, and that’s not what National Championship teams do. Syracuse started to go vertical with Nassib throwing downfield and the Trojans backed off and let it happen for a couple of drives. Stanford took over the second half against the Trojans, after USC played a great first half defensively and showed briefs signs of life on offense. David Shaw decided that his Cardinal were going to come out and shut down the Fighting Kiffins and they did. Repeatedly. Against Cal, the Trojans finally got the running game going and finally showed some will power to take the game to the Bears and do what they wanted to do, which was run the ball. Cal knew that Silas Redd was getting the ball and they couldn’t stop it. That’s a USC tactic of old, and it worked.

But still, in the passing game, there’s just too much passivity as Lane Kiffin has made it clear that he’s calling a very conservative passing game because defenses are dropping into cloud coverages and trying to take out Robert Woods and give up short routes to Marqise Lee. If you’re the Trojans, sure, you take that, but at some point Kiffin will need to go into the teeth of defenses and trust his players’ ability to execute and control the game. They have the players and talent to do it, so until the Trojans can come out and establish a game plan and stick to it both in the passing game and on the ground, I’ll be giving a ‘C’ grade. Being afraid of defenses has never won anything, Coach.

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We had our say, and now it’s your turn, so bring it. Vote in our poll and leave your comments below to join our discussion.

What grade would you give USC through the first four games?

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Topics: Football, USC Trojans

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