USC Football: Grading USC Through Five Games


Oct 4, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Southern California Trojans receiver Marqise Lee (9) is defended by Utah Utes safetry Eric Rowe (18) on an 83-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. USC defeated Utah 38-28. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

For this grading session, I am going to focus solely on the offensive side of the ball.  The Trojans came into the season with lofty expectations.  Those expectations included a Pac-12 title, a national championship, and a Heisman Trophy for their star quarterback.  To this point they have not lived up to those expectations.

This is a team that returned 10 of 11 starters on offense.  While the numbers they are putting up this season are comparable to those of 2011, the play calling has been extremely erratic which has caused drives to sputter and stall out.  This is an offense that seems to lack an identity and continuity – no sense of direction.

Through the first 5 games of 2011, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee accounted for 59% of the teams receptions (59.6% for the entire year).  By comparison, they currently account for 72.8% of the team’s receptions.  There is nothing in the game plan or by the design of the play calling to get others involved in the passing game.  There is no diversity or imagination in the play calling.

The middle of the field does not exist for the Trojans.  They have chosen to attack from the hash marks to the sideline almost exclusively.  This has allows opposing defenses to deploy coverage schemes to limit the effectiveness of Woods and Lee.

When the Trojans aren’t placing an emphasis on the run, which has been the case in numerous games this year, it allows for two deep coverage without the concern of getting beat down the seam or on a post by tight ends or slot receivers.

Lee is averaging just 12.5 yards per catch with Woods only mustering 8.8 yards per catch.  They were at 15.7 and 11.6 yards per catch respectively in 2011.  That is a decline of 3 yards for each receiver.  That is even with Lee getting a huge bump in his average from the game he had in Utah.  Prior to putting up 192 yards on 12 catches against the Utes – Lee was only averaged 11.5 yards per catch.

Upfront, the Trojans have gone to musical offensive linemen.  To be fair, some of it has been because of an ankle injury suffered by Khaled Holmes.  That doesn’t explain all of the shuffling though.

So far this year we have seen Holmes, Cyrus Hobbi, and Abe Markowitz at center.  We have also seen Marcus Martin and Markowitz at left guard.  Still again we have seen Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk at left tackle.

This is a unit that did an outstanding job last year and returned 4 of 5 starters.  The only vacated position was that of left tackle.  Offensive line is a unit that must play as one.  It is important that they communicate with each other and a lot of that communication is non-verbal.  That is something that comes from playing with each other side by side.  Tinkering with the continuity here is very dangerous.

With this level of talent this Trojans’ offense should be forcing scoreboard operators to get finger cramps.  Yet they have severely underperformed and a lot of that falls on the man who calls the plays and designs the game plan each week.

Until Kiffin finds a way to get continuity on the line, spread the ball around to other receivers, and attack different parts of the field at every level – this team will continue to fall short of the many expectations placed upon it since Barkley made the decision to return to Troy for his senior year.

To this point in the season the Trojans have performed to a C- on offense.  With Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, and Notre Dame still to come on the schedule; the Trojans will need to hit full stride.  They will have a tough road test against Washington that will give the opportunity to do that.