Coming in the 2009 season, everyone was excited about the debut of Matt Barkley, the highly touted quarterback recruit. Pete Carroll’s boy leapfrogged both Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp in the depth chart and secured the starting spot for the Trojans.
In the leading role for the USC football program, Barkley had a decent season. He threw for 2,735 yards with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and about halfway through the season, he was even in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy. Had the team’s defense not melted down for the second half of the year, costing the program a shot at a BCS bowl, Barkley’s performance would not have been seen in such a negative light.
Still, the true freshman has issues playing under center. For one, his lack of speed really hampered him. In his first year at the college level, his pocket presence was so underdeveloped that he didn’t have the skills to overcome his slow foot speed. Barkley was often trapped in the pocket with nowhere to go (and no hope to scramble) when a pass rusher came to pound him into the grass — which happened 17 times over the course of the season.
The second primary shortcoming for Barkley was his poor decision-making ability. With only one spring semester of practice under his belt, Barkley’s misguided choices were understandable. But time and time again he made costly mistakes, as he frequently tried to force the ball to the double-covered man or a receiver in traffic. The one target Barkley seemed to have a true connection with was Anthony McCoy, and his injury was a big blow for Barkley’s passing game.
As the 2010 season approaches, everyone’s hoping that Barkley will take his game to the next level. While Lane Kiffin has insisted the position battle for the starting spot between Barkley and Mustain is still open, it’s safe to say that Barkley will be taking the lion’s share of the snaps come September.
As a result of the sanctions, Barkley can see this season as a pressure-free opportunity to fine-tune his game and become a true force in the passing game. Kiffin’s stellar recruiting has paved the way for Barkley’s development.
The Tennessee exile managed to sign Seantrel Henderson, one of the best in the business, to anchor Barkley’s blind side. A dependable protector will give Barkley the confidence to take his time on his passes and focus on his targets rather than having to worry about blitz pressure from the defense.
Then there’s Dillon Baxter. The crafty running back who dazzled fans with will play a role as a consistent ground force that was absent from the Trojans’ repertoire in 2009. A dependable ground game puts pressure on opposing defenses to play for both the run and the pass, and that will give Barkley and the receivers some more breathing room.
Speaking of receivers, the wideout troupe for the 2010 USC squad is looking to be one scary set of players. The team will retain standouts Ronald Johnson and David Ausberry at the position, but Kiffin also wrangled in a trio of the top down-field targets in the nation. Robert Woods and Kyle Prater should have an immense impact on the USC passing game, giving Barkley more targets than he’ll know what to do with. Throw in the best tight-end recruit in the country, Xavier Grimble, and another top WR in Markeith Ambles, and the pass game should be close to unstoppable.
With all these options, Barkley will have no choice but to work on his decision making. He’s going to have multiple open receivers, and he’s going to learn to avoid tunnel vision and honing in on one in particular. If he can do that, he will really emerge as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.