Grading the 2010 USC Football Season: Offense


Grade: B

Coordinator: Kennedy Pola (Year 1)

By many measures, the USC offense performed better than it did in 2009. The Trojans racked up 31 points per game and ran more smoothly than the 2009 edition. They were able to put together long, sustained drives and move the ball with a nice rhythm for much of the year. Although Kennedy Pola is listed as the offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin called the plays and did a good job for the first ten games. The offense really struggled down the stretch, but he had the unit rolling for the majority of the year. Much of the credit belongs to him.

It’s very easy to forget that Matt Barkley is a true sophomore. He progressed well in his second year under the system and turned in a more efficient season. After throwing 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his first year, Barkley came back to throw 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2010. Even without a superb tight end like Anthony McCoy, Barkley was able to find his receivers 62.6% of the time for 2791 yards. The sophomore took some flack for missing an open receiver to seal the Washington game,  but he also outplayed Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck in Palo Alto. Furthermore, he dismantled Cal for 5 touchdowns in the first half and all in all had a great season. The only problem with Barkley is sometimes he tries to do too much. He still turns the ball over a little too much, and you never know which Barkley you’ll get. Most of the time he plays very well, but there are times when he tries to be the hero and make impossible throws. If he can cut down on those throws, he can work his way into the Heisman conversation next year.

The receiving corps played well for the first three-quarters of the season. Robert Woods made the freshman All-America team because of his ability to make acrobatic catches and find gaps in tight coverage. At Stanford, he came up with several unbelievable catches to sustain drives and put points on the board. Woods was also a tough son of a gun. One catch in particular comes to mind when he caught the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and got leveled but hung on to the ball and popped up to celebrate. In his first season, Woods amassed 792 yards on 65 catches and 6 touchdowns. He justified the hype Lane Kiffin attached to him in fall camp and played very well. Ronald Johnson may be remembered for his drop against Notre Dame that would have won the game, but he also had a quality season. As the main deep threat, Johnson recorded 64 catches for 692 yards and 8 touchdowns. Both wideouts developed a nice rapport with Barkley and it was a pleasure to watch some of the amazing catches they made.

At times, figuring out who was starting at running back was a mystery. There wasn’t a shortage of talented candidates, but Kiffin tried to ride the hot hand each week and he may not have always had the right guy out there. Marc Tyler ran for 913 yards on 171 carries (5.3 ypc) and Allen Bradford totaled 794 yards on 110 carries. For the latter part of the season, Bradford resided in Kiffin’s doghouse for ball security issues and didn’t play as much. What could have been had he played the entire season? His best games included 212 on 28 carries at UCLA, 21 carries for 223 against Washington, and 131 yards on 12 carries at Minnesota. Tyler certainly did a very nice job over the course of the season, but he never turned in the kind of game Bradford was capable of. Bradford was such a powerful, bruising back that could handle a large load while Tyler seemed more like a finesse back. It would have been interesting to see Bradford register more carries, especially in the key games against Oregon and Oregon State. Nevertheless, Tyler was impressive in his first season as the feature back. He broke the 100 yard barrier three times and willed the Trojans to a victory in Tucson. He faded in three of the five losses (31 carries for 93 yards combined against Stanford, Oregon State, and Notre Dame). Regardless of the few poor performances, Tyler showed he is a valuable asset and should have another big impact in 2011. Dillon Baxter never turned in a breakout game, but you could see what the coaching staff saw in him when they recruited him. He is incredibly quick and patient. He often stopped mid-run to allow the blockers to set up so that he could gain more yards.

For the most part, the offensive line did a nice job of protecting Matt Barkley and opening up holes for the running backs. USC ranked 27th in rushing with 189 yards per game. Before the Arizona game, Lane Kiffin called the line out for lackluster blocking, and they responded by dominating the line of scrimmage in Tucson and pounded the ball for a victory. The line will be an issue next year with Tyron Smith and Kris O’Dowd gone. Those shoes will be hard to fill. The Trojans didn’t have tremendous depth on the line in 2010, but there was no shortage of talent.

USC needs to find a sure-handed tight end next year. They brought in the top three tight ends in the country in their 2010 recruiting class and hopefully one of them will emerge. Having a solid tight end would be a lethal addition to the offense. Barkley loved Anthony McCoy his freshman year, and having a tight end to go to under pressure would be the perfect counter to blitzes and good coverage on the wideouts.

In addition to being statistically better, the offense was much more creative. Under Jeremy Bates,  the 2009 Trojans tried to kill defenses with bubble screens and predictable play calling. Lane Kiffin and Kennedy Pola were much more innovative, implementing some Wildcat and taking more chances through the air.

Admittedly, the offense turned in lackluster performances against Virginia, Oregon State, Notre Dame, and through the first half of the UCLA game. Two of these games ended in losses, but the Notre Dame game could have been a win despite conservative play calling with Mitch Mustain at quarterback. At times, Kiffin tried to get too complicated when it came to formations and it came in the form of delay of game penalties and wasted timeouts. However, the offense was entertaining to watch. Overall, the Trojans did pretty well on offense and played well enough to win most of their games. With Robert Woods and Marc Tyler back to work with Barkley, the future looks bright.