When the Trojans take the field tomorrow night in Salt Lake City, they may or may not have Khaled Holmes lining up at center. Quite simply, his presence is imperative for hopes of getting the offense running at top speed in the fashion it’s expected to. But his status hasn’t been the only culprit for the USC offense and despite the lack of 2005 numbers being posted, the kinks in the passing game are more than capable of being fixed.
Consider that Matt Barkley and his receivers have not looked elite at this season. Barkley’s five interceptions are tied for the second most in the conference and rank him worse than Cal’s Zach Maynard, which may or may not unofficially disbar him from Heisman talk for a while. He just hasn’t looked like a Heisman quarterback this season, and it’s not all due to pressure on the offensive line.
Barkley has missed his passes when he’s had opportunities, he’s thrown behind Robert Woods a half dozen times and has had multiple breakdowns in communication with his two All-American caliber wide receivers. But even with that said, if one of the main gripes against the USC offense is the suddenly poor connection of Barkley and Woods, then that has to be the best offensive problem in the nation.
Despite their pitfalls thus far, they have too much talent and they’re too cerebral of players for their seasons to go by the wayside, far short of expectations. They’ve been too good for enough of a sustained time to believe that they won’t regain their success of 2011.
Even if Barkley isn’t worthy of the Heisman Trophy at the moment, he’s shown enough throughout his career to warrant some hype, and it would be absolutely dumbfounding if he didn’t find his rhythm and look like the Barkley people saw a year ago, at least at some point.
And sure, there’s more issues than dropped passes and interceptions, as Lane Kiffin’s play calling has been questionable at best. His ability to be more than content with defenses to force the Trojans into screens is interesting when last year he would have Barkley throw go-routes at will in the second half of the season.
What happened? Kiffin says it’s defenses playing his receivers differently. But when you have receivers as talented as Lee and Woods, it’s hard to believe that they wouldn’t win some battles if they went right after the defense.
And in the times when Kiffin has dialed up the deep ball, despite multiple drops, the plays have worked to perfection with Marqise Lee and Robert Woods becoming wide open down field. If Lee is getting as open as he was against Cal in the first quarter, you would think that an offensive coordinator would look to get the same route thrown to at some point with hopes of not another drop. Just because a pass is intercepted or dropped doesn’t exactly mean the play wasn’t successfully executed.
For example, look at Barkley’s interception against Syracuse. Woods had his man beat by nearly five yards on a deep post, but a poorly thrown ball behind him is what enabled the turnover. Woods did his job, Barkley read the defense and made the correct decision. It was the throw that was to blame, not the play, so why does Kiffin seem to abandon the deep ball after a drop or pick?
The Trojans are just sixth in passing, and while it may seem like a daunting task to improve those numbers, it’s not like Kiffin’s offense hasn’t rebounded before, and it’s not like the players aren’t capable of far exceeding their current play.
It’s just a matter of actually getting better.