The Trojans needed a break after the California game to regroup. Despite winning quite comfortably 27-9 they still didn’t look like the team many expected coming into the year. Was it a hangover from the previous weeks defeat to Stanford? Or are there bigger issues at play here? Last week’s bye was timely and tonight they’re looking to hit back against Utah.
Matt Barkley has been out of sync so far, averaging 211 passing yards in his last three games. In his final four games last year he was picking up an average of 310 yards per game, throwing 17 touchdowns and just two picks. In his last two games against Stanford and California this year he has four interceptions – just three short of his entire total for 2011.
Some people will overreact to these numbers and others will consider the situation Barkley faces. Tonight he’ll probably be playing without star center Khaled Holmes again – a huge loss considering it’s coupled with the departure of left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL. Yet this difficult situation provides an opportunity for Barkley. One thing he’s going to have to prove in the upcoming weeks is that he’s able to cope with adversity. Teams picking early in the 2013 draft are likely to have a lot of issues and they’re going to need to know he can work in an imperfect environment. He struggled a bit against Stanford and Cal with poor pass protection so this is another chance to make a statement that he doesn’t require the perfect storm to make plays. How he does it will be interesting to see, considering he’s not an elusive quarterback. He has underrated footwork and feel in the pocket though, and he may need that quality tonight.
One thing Barkley really needs to improve – downfield throwing. According to ESPN Stats, he’s 3/15 on passes thrown 20+ yards downfield this season – missing all eight attempts in the last two games. That’s a concern for a player who has faced criticism in this area many times in his career.
Barkley’s helped by USC’s power on the outside with Marqise Lee a likely top pick in 2014 and Robert Woods among the best 2013 eligible receivers. Woods is also looking for a rebound game after two mediocre displays. He was the key playmaker against Syracuse, recording 10 catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns – adding a further 76 yards on a clever reverse play before juking his way into the red zone. Against Stanford and California he had nine catches for just 68 total yards. He’s always going to suffer through Lee’s presence taking away some of the targets. However, he needs to keep flashing big plays and production to max out his stock given his 6-1 – 190lbs frame is unlikely to generate much excitement among scouts.
For Utah it’s all about staying close and making key plays on defense. Star Lotulelei has all the upside in the world and for sheer physical potential is the best defensive tackle to enter the draft since Ndamukong Suh. However, he lacks the same level of playmaking ability and consistency. Suh was a constant force, impacting virtually every down at Nebraska as a pass rusher and providing solid run support the rest of the time. Lotulelei shows some of the same qualities as a pass rusher but then there are just as many plays where he gets blown up or just lacks the motor to keep going. Coming up against USC’s struggling interior line could be a gift on a national stage like this, but he has to capitalise. Right now whoever drafts Lotulelei will do so based on potential and upside. He could end up being one of the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL one day – but it’ll take coaching and time to get there.
Chris Steuber is reporting Seattle will have scouts at the game:
— Chris Steuber (@ChrisSteuber) October 4, 2012
I’ll put some thoughts on the blog tomorrow. In the meantime, if you’re watching tonight feel free to give us your take in the comments section.