Matt Barkley needed a rebound display. No problem.
USC put themselves in a big hole early in the game, trailing 14-0 after almost identical issues snapping the ball. Khaled Holmes played despite lingering injury issues and that – along with Star Lotulelei’s presence – led to two botched snaps on the opening two possessions. How did Barkley react? He laughed it off, cracking jokes on the sideline and visibly raising the spirits of his team mates. He knew exactly what to do to get a response, to make sure the 14-0 deficit didn’t suffocate the team. USC quickly established a long touchdown drive on their next possession and were back in the game.
People can talk about physical qualities and intelligence but sometimes the role of the quarterback is simply to lead. Barkley knows his team – and this is his team for the remainder of the season. He knew how to get things rolling again. I guarantee every team watching the Utah game will have noticed his reaction to falling behind quickly and the way he led from the front and got things rolling. Even when Utah pulled into a 21-10 lead there was no panic. Barkley was in complete control, it’s almost like he planned it this way.
He ended with 303 passing yards, 23/30 completions and three touchdowns – all the while showing the kind of end of season form that would’ve made him a high pick in this years draft. His three scores were all well executed – characteristically accurate to Randall Telfer and Robert Woods from short range – before delivering on a downfield bomb to Marqise Lee. Nobody will ever argue Barkley has an elite arm, but it doesn’t prevent him from making big plays down the field. He found enough juice to pick out Lee in behind two defensive backs and he let his receiver do the rest on an 83 yard catch and run. Anyone doubting Barkley’s credentials as a high pick should watch this performance. His next game is at Century Link against Washington. I wonder if it’ll be a preview of future displays in the city of Seattle?
Geno Smith is the media’s favourite right now, but Barkley remains the best 2013 quarterback in my view. He’ll not suit every system, he’s not going to be a great elusive quarterback running tons of bootlegs. He’ll not make the miracle plays we’re seeing from guys like Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton. Yet in an offense that values ball control, making the right decisions, multiple quick reads and delivering an accurate ball – he’s an ideal fit. His lack of physical skills will concern some enough to suffer a possible fall but it only takes one interested party to make him the top pick. I can’t think of a better fit for Barkley than the NFC West – whether it’s Arizona, San Francisco or Seattle.
What about Lotulelei? Well he put in the same performance we always see – both dominating and ineffective. He started the game on fire, destroying the interior line and making several plays in the backfield. He got into Khaled Holmes’ head and looked like he was set for a true breakout performance in the national spotlight. Then… zero tackles in the second quarter and little impact in the second half. Welcome to the world of Star Lotulelei.
Without doubt he has elite physical potential and unmatched upside. If you could channel Lotulelei at his best he’d go to the NFL as one of the best prospects to enter the league in the last ten years. But here’s the issue – he is NOT consistent. We’ve talked about this often on Seahawks Draft Blog, but the guy blows hot and cold. Is it a motor issue? It is stamina? Is it just a lack of desire on his behalf to impact every single play? Don’t get me wrong, he’s not awful when he’s not having the big impact. USC did a good job running away from him to the edge and used some smart blocking to protect Barkley after the early meltdown. But Lotulelei threatened to be the big story tonight – and it ended up being about Matt Barkley. He’ll still be a high pick next April but he remains more of an upside prospect than a finished article. In my view, Sylvester Williams is a more rounded and consistent performer at defensive tackle but his age as a former JUCO transfer warrants a lack of hype.
Robert Woods ended the day with six catches for 69 yards including a touchdown. At one point he took a big hit to the head blocking on a return and collapsed in midfield. Initially it looked like he’d be unable to return with obvious concussion-like symptoms, but Woods did return and made some key plays in the game. His best act was a 41 yard catch and run in the first half to set up a scoring drive. There’s something about Woods you just can’t ignore – he’s not the biggest or the fastest. He still finds ways to make plays though, he’s a spark. I expect that will continue into his pro-career.
Also on the schedule this week: Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Georgia at South Carolina, LSU at Florida and Washington at Oregon. Due to TV scheduling (thanks, MLB playoffs) I’m unable to watch these games over the weekend as they’re being replayed later in the week. I’ll have a few thoughts on the blog after they’re broadcast over here.
I’ll also be creating an open thread tomorrow so if you’re watching a game or two – get involved.