On the bright side, Curtis McNeal (Venice High School) and USC’s running game finally got on track. But this win did not impress anybody, including the voters. Photo by Ken Brooks
Win over Cal does not do much to get USC back in the National Championship race. Issues in the passing game have become a concern.
Rome was not built in a day, and USC getting back in the national championship race was not going to happen after one game. They took care of business against Cal in a 27-9 victory, but the win did not convince anybody that this team has bounced back from their 21-14 loss at Stanford.
Technically all wins are equal, but in reality, when voters are factored in, simply taking care of business against a middle of the road team will not move the dial, and at some point, USC is going to need that dial to move. As No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon are beating the brakes off of their opponents, USC does not look superior to anybody. They were supposed to be a super team, not a team with lackluster wins, like they had against Syracuse two weeks ago, and against Cal.
On a positive note, USC finally found their running game against Cal. The week before against Stanford they only rushed for 26 yards on 28 carries, and they did not have a dominant rushing attack in their first two games. Against Cal, USC rushed for 296 yards as Silas Redd ran for 158 yards on 21 carries, and Curtis McNeal (Venice High School) rushed for 115 yards on 10 carries, which included a 62-yard touchdown run.
But USC’s problem, which is a big surprise with the talent that they have, a few of which were in the Heisman race and in the running for other post-season awards, is the passing game.
Matt Barkley was supposed to be the best quarterback in the nation and the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. Robert Woods (Serra High School) was in the running for the nation’s best wide receiver award last year, and Marquis Lee (Serra High School) may be the best wide receiver in the nation this year. But with all of that NFL caliber talent, USC has struggled moving the ball through the air, and the blame is going on the arm of Barkley.
Barkley’s arm strength has been questioned in terms of being a NFL prospect, but it appears that it is affecting him on the college level. Most of his completed passes are within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He has struggled with the deep ball, but more alarming is that he has been inconsistent in the 10-20 yard range. Hitting deep ins and outs, curls, seams, and other patterns down field has been a major problem.
USC’s passing offense has pretty much become throwing short passes to Lee or Woods and letting them do all the work. The burden has been on them to break a tackle or make a defender miss for USC to get some yards downfield. An offense cannot survive on that.
With that type of offense, defenses play closer to the line of scrimmage because they know the short pass is coming, and because they play closer, it makes it easier to stop the run.
Against Cal, Barkley completed 22 passes for 192 yards, which is an average of only 8.7 yards per completed pass. Lee caught 11 passes for 94 yards, an average of 8.5 per reception. Woods’ numbers were not good either. He caught five passes for 30 yards, an average of only six yards per reception. With the receivers that USC has, there is no reason to have completion numbers that low.
It also does not help that Barkley has thrown two interceptions in each of the last two games.
USC needs to improve on their vertical passing offense, and by stretching the defense it could help out their running game. That can also get them back into the national champion race. But even with improvements, USC will be out of sight, out of mind for a while because of their schedule.
USC has a bye this Saturday, and they do not take the field until next Thursday night at Utah. A win over a sub par Utah team will not do much to move the dial, neither will wins over Washington, Colorado, and Arizona, their next three opponents after Utah. None of those teams are currently ranked.
The next opportunity for USC to make a statement is November 3 against Oregon. If USC takes care of business and rolls into that game with a 7-1 record, and then pull out an upset, then they will be right back in the thick of things. But until then nobody is going to be paying attention.