USC football needs JT Daniels to follow Matt Barkley’s growth as a quarterback

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

JT Daniels’ freshman season mirrored that of Matt Barkley. Now USC football needs Daniels to stay on Barkley’s path with marked improvement as a sophomore.

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JT Daniels was the first true freshman quarterback to start for USC football since Matt Barkley. So, it should come as no surprise that the two had remarkably similar statistical seasons as freshmen.

Barkley completed 59.9 percent of his passes with 2,735 yards, 15 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 131.32.

Daniels completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 128.55.

The numbers go to show that true freshman quarterbacks will struggle, especially on teams with other deficiencies weighing them down.

Here’s the good news: Barkley showed serious progress as a sophomore. He wasn’t yet the finished article who would be discussed as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he was a far more capable leader of the offense.

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In 2010, Barkley completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2791 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a passer rating of 141.18.

While his yardage was about the same, his game grew more efficient, particularly in the area of touchdowns-to-interceptions.

Expecting a similar transformation from Daniels is not unreasonable, assuming he retains the job through competition this offseason.

There’s another parallel for USC to potentially reap benefits from. Barkley’s first year struggles were in an underperforming offense run by Jeremy Bates. The Trojans averaged 26.5 points per game that year.

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Daniels first year struggles came under Tee Martin and Clay Helton in an offense which averaged 26.1 points per game.

When Lane Kiffin took over the offense in 2010, he got more out of the sophomore Barkley while increasing the Trojans’ scoring average rose to 31 points per game.

A similar improvement for Graham Harrell and Daniels in 2019 would be a major boost.

Daniels following in Barkley’s footsteps as a sophomore wouldn’t fix all of USC’s problems. Actually, Barkley’s second-year step forward didn’t result in more victories for his team as the defense conceded nearly seven points more per game under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

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It will take a team effort to pull the Trojans out of the 5-7 hole they dug in 2018. Even so, elevating the production and efficiency of the quarterback certainly wouldn’t do the 2019 team any harm.