USC Football: Where’s the Offense?


In spite of a Top 10 BCS ranking and no real threat of a challenger in the Pac-12 South Division, USC fans find themselves half way through the 2012 campaign feeling restless and a bit distressed. The Trojans have lost only one game, a road game to a top conference challenger that is easily explained away by injury. And with two Top 5 teams still scheduled to visit the Coliseum, USC is only one loss to Kansas State away from controlling its own destiny.

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

So what’s getting fans down? Everyone wants to know, where’s the offense?

Preseason expectations for the Trojans’ offense were through the roof, and not without cause. USC has arguably the best quarterback and best two receivers in the nation, alongside two 1,000-yard tailbacks and two huge, athletic tight ends that any program would kill for. Khaled Holmes is an All-American-caliber center and the entire offensive line appeared solid.

This phenomenal collection of talent is coached by a supposed prodigy. A self-styled offensive genius who could make other teams look foolish even without superior talent. With the talent? There was not an offensive record that would not fall at SC this season, and Matt Barkley’s Heisman was essentially a formality.

Six games into the season, the Cardinal and Gold faithful are starting to wonder when the fireworks are going to start and if the hype had validity.

The Trojans started with the expected bang against Hawai’i, with the season’s first play from scrimmage being a spectacular 75-yard catch and run by Marqise Lee that was straight out of Techmo Bowl. USC scored 49 points in the game, and it appeared they could have put up 100 had they wanted to.

But since conference play started, things haven’t gone as planned. Far from leading the Heisman race with blinding statistics, Matt Barkley is forth in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (and about 100 yards per game behind the top two), and 38th nationally. As a team, USC is sixth in the Pa-12 in passing yards per game and in total yards the Trojans are seventh.

Not even in the top half! What in the name of Pat Hayden is going on, right?

Since that spectacular offensive start against Hawai’i, the Trojan offense has become progressively more focused on the run, and the offense’s output has declined along with it.

for evidence, the following graph plots two statistics: the percentage of USC offensive plays that were pass attempts, and the number of points scored.

With the exception of the Stanford game, when USC played from behind and faced a large number of third down and distance situations that demanded a pass, the correlation between pass emphasis and offensive production has been uncanny.

Against Utah, the Trojans were run-heavy in the third quarter while the Utes hung around in the game, then put a stop to the Utah run in the fourth quarter with an 83-yard bomb to Marqise Lee.

Against Washington last week, the Trojans got off to a phenomenal start running the football with over 100 yards from Silas Redd in two quarters, but refused to throw the ball in the second half even as Redd was shut down at times.

Yes, the Trojans got the ‘W’ in Seattle, but USC faithful can’t be faulted for wondering why the “best offense of all time” was unable to score in the final 42 minutes of the game against the 8th ranked scoring defense in the conference.

It’s rarely clear to the public what Lane Kiffin is thinking about anything and this sudden halt to the Matt Barkley Heisman Campaign is no exception. Is he withholding the magic of the offense to unleash some surprises for the Oregon, UCLA, Notre Dame portion of the schedule? Is he avoiding showing up conference opponents? Trying to build the confidence of the offensive line? It’s hard to say.

Against Colorado, the Trojans could probably win comfortably by starting Max Wittek at quarterback and George Farmer at tailback, so there’s no reason to sweat too much. However, next week’s game at Arizona is a critical one in the South Division race and against Rich-Rod’s offense, USC may need more than the 24 points the offense scored at Washington to get the win.

The key to improved productivity may just be as simple as the Trojans’ sandy blonde wunderkind flipping the switch on the passing game.