I’ll compile my notes on Matt Barkley vs Oregon when the tape is ready to be published. In the meantime I wanted to make some notes on his performance overall, because he made a real statement on Saturday.
After months of hype for Andrew Luck, for one evening people were talking about someone else for a change. This year Barkley has continued to progress technically, improve his numbers and lead USC to key victories along the way. Despite that, there’s been a surprisingly negative undercurrent to Barkley’s draft stock. Now, it’s impossible to deny we’re looking at a top end quarterback prospect.
Yes, he has the luxury of playing with two of the finest young receiver’s in college football. No, USC wouldn’t have beaten Oregon without Matt Barkley.
We’ve often talked about what Barkley does well – his high command of the offense, his decision making and ability to make those decisions quickly while reading a defense. There was one throw on Saturday where Barkley looked to the left, pumped, came back to the middle of the field and after some neat footwork just lifted the ball over one defensive back into an impossible window ahead of a cornerback. All the while he had pressure in his face and was actually knocked to the ground just after releasing the ball. The touch, the accuracy, the decision making was at an elite level, it was one of the finest passes you’ll see this season. Let’s not forget, this is a defense Andrew Luck really struggled to cope with last week – and he had the benefit of home field advantage.
We also know Barkley’s restrictions by now. Nobody would ever argue he’s a physically brilliant quarterback because that’s not his game. He compensates for not having blazing speed, great height or an arm for the ages by being incredibly polished in every other area of his game. His footwork and instinct makes up for a lack of pure speed, making him surprisingly elusive and capable to get the occassional first down on the ground. More importantly though, it allows him to extend plays in the pocket. One of the big problems with Landry Jones is his poor footwork facing pressure off a simple drop or snap in the gun – too often he panics. Barkley’s ability to move away from pressure with a minimal number of steps is as good as I’ve seen from a quarterback this year.
He hasn’t got an amazing deep ball – a lot of the time it’s slightly under thrown and certainly he’s not driving 60-yard bombs in-behind a defensive back for breakaway gains. However, his decision making and precision is again crucial here. I’m convinced I’ve not seen Barkley throw a deep ball into double coverage this season. He plays the percentages and if he needs to look off the safety with a quick pump or misdirection with his eyes – he’ll do it to create the one-on-one match-up he wants. When you’re throwing to a receiver as talented as Marqise Lee, you can afford to get it up there and let him make a play. At the next level he’s going to face greater problems against superior defensive schemes and secondary talent. However, he wouldn’t be the first quarterback to find ways to cope and let the smarts overcome the physical weaknesses. I’ve compared his potential to that of Matt Ryan early in his career – not because they have a lot of similarities in appearance or even technique – but in terms of being able to control an offense and make a lot out of what offensive talent he has. I think in that sense it’s a fair match.
Are there a lot of screens and high percentage passes in the USC offense? Yes, but that’s part of the gameplan. Being able to check down when necessary is part of the game of football, being able to take easy yards is also part of football. As long as you see evidence of a player getting out of that comfort zone and throwing low percentage passes and consistently executing, that’s all you need. Barkley has easily achieved that this year.
It wasn’t all perfect – Barkley made one awful decision trying to force a pass after a bad snap just after half time that probably should’ve been intercepted. The pick he did have was also avoidable – Barkley argued (fairly) that Robert Woods was being held and the flag should’ve been thrown. However, having detected the obstruction, why make the throw to a receiver in no position to make the play?
It’s impossible to define how this performance impacts his decision on whether to declare or not. On the one hand, Barkley has seen the potential in this team and with sanctions lifted next year – could USC be primed for a tilt at the PAC-12 title (or more)? There are also opposing arguments which could persuade Barkley to declare – for example, he could lose his top-end left tackle to the NFL in Matt Kalil. Wins over Notre Dame, Washington and now Oregon would allow him to depart with some level of achievement and his stock is higher now than it possibly ever will be. Returning comes with an injury and performance risk that could severely impact his stock. Perhaps the most important factor in favor of him moving on is simply that Barkley is ready for the pro’s. He’s ready to line-up in a NFL offense and having started three years in SoCal, he’s ready for the next chapter in his career. That doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily take it.
We’ll have a similar debate about Robert Griffin III when I get into the Oklahoma/Baylor tape. Griffin stood out again for his overall performance - including a last minute drive to get the go-ahead score on a brilliant pass across his body to the back of the end zone. Baylor will lose several key players next year and there’s not really much else for them to achieve, especially if they win a Bowl game. Griffin has considered law school, but that was before this season. More than ever it’s looking likely that he’ll declare and he’s seperating himself as the obvious #3 ranked quarterback in this group behind Luck and Barkley.
This week I will be publishing my first mock draft of the new season. Both Barkley and Griffin III will be included.