If I told you that an offense was returning 10 out of 11 starters, you would think that offense would have a chance to be competitive. If I told you that the one of those returning starters was a quarterback who threw for over 3,500 yards, 39 touchdowns against only seven interceptions, while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, you would sit up straight in your chair.
If I told you that quarterback would also have at his disposal a receiver that caught 111 passes for nearly 1,300 yards and another receiver that caught 73 passes for over 1,100 yards, you would sit on the edge of your seat.
If I then told you that this offense would also be returning a running back that ran for over 1,000 yards while averaging nearly seven yards per carry, your eyes would get wide with excitement.
On top of that, this offense would be adding a Penn State transfer running back that ran for over 1,200 yards while averaging over five yards per carry, you would jump out of your seat pumping your fists while exclaiming, “No one would be able to stop this offense!”
Well that is the Trojans’ offense. Despite the embarrassment of talent they have on their roster, they haven’t been able to put it together. No one has been able to stop this offense, except this offense.
The failures of an offensive this talented are due to the failure of the offensive coordinator to put a coherent game plan together or call effective plays. In this case the offensive coordinator is head coach Lane Kiffin.
The game against the Washington Huskies showed the systemic problems of the offense, as Matt Barkley had his second game of the season where he completed just 50 percent of his passes or less. In 2011 he only had 1 game where he was under 60 percent.
Barkley got the ball to four different receivers against the Huskies, which ironically is one below his season average. By comparison, through the first six games of 2011, on average he got the ball to eight different receivers. He also never had a game during that span where less than 6 receivers got involved. There have been four games this season where that has happened.
Of the 10 passes that Barkley completed on Saturday, seven of them were completed to Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. That is right on par with the percentage of team receptions this duo accounts for this year. Nearly 73 percent of his completions have gone to Lee and Woods.
Through the first six games of 2011, Woods and Lee only accounted for 55 percent of the team’s receptions. This made the passing game difficult to defend because teams had to defend the entire field. Now they only have to defend the outside.
Even when Barkley attempts to get the ball to a receiver not named Woods or Lee, he seems to throw almost exclusively to the sideline. When defenses know not only who you are going to the throw the ball to but where you are going to throw the ball, this becomes very problematic.
On the pass that Barkley was intercepted on, a deep sideline pass to Nelson Agoholor, the corner, who was playing a deep third technique, just sat on the route. An indication of how predictable this offense has become.
There is no diversity in the game plan. No new wrinkles. No spreading the ball around. No imagination in the play calling. I don’t know if Kiffin scouts his own team but he probably should. You can’t rely on having superior athletes. It is the responsibility of the coach to put his athletes in a position to win regardless of their talent level.
Kiffin hasn’t done this much this year. After the Trojans play Colorado next week, they have five games that the offense will need to put points on the board. Hopefully Kiffin has a plan to make that happen.