To the casual observer it would appear that the USC Trojans have it all figured out.
Sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods (Serra HS) is setting the college world on fire with his record-setting performances.
Junior quarterback Matt Barkley is steadily ascending the USC all-time passing list.
With such a dynamic duo, what else could a team need?
For all of the excellence that Barkley and Woods create on the field, several other areas of the team have yet to reach that mark.
Barkley’s blindside protector, junior Matt Kalil, is widely considered to be one the premiere offensive tackles in the country. Yet the rest of the offensive line continues to be inconsistent.
True freshman Marcus Martin (Crenshaw HS) became the third different player to start at left guard this season — and he may not be the last. Redshirt junior Abe Markowitz, who was the projected starter in fall camp before suffering a foot injury, is working his way back into the rotation.
Such shuffling along the offensive line disrupts the continuity that the unit needs to be successful.
Although the offensive line has done a good job at keeping Barkley upright for the most part — allowing only two sacks in three games — that same production has not carried over to the running game.
After coming off the bench to rush for 113 yards and a touchdown against Utah, senior running back Marc Tyler got the start against Syracuse last week. Tyler was held to just 41 rushing yards on 15 carries.
Granted the Trojans had 175 yards rushing as a team last week, 112 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, with the game already out of reach for the Orange.
Totaling 63 rushing yards through three quarters might not cause much concern when the quarterback can pass for 309 yards and four touchdowns in the same amount of time — but that was against Syracuse, a team ranked 84th in total defense out of the 120 FBS schools.
Seven of USC’s eleven red-zone trips this season have resulted in touchdowns, with only one — Tyler’s six-yard sprint against Utah — coming one the ground.
With October games against two of the top-10 rushing defense units in the country, California and Stanford, USC must find a way to generate a potent rushing attack for an entire four quarters.
However coach Lane Kiffin isn’t overlooking USC’s other opponents prior to the two aforementioned games. Especially not Arizona State, whom USC plays this weekend in Tempe.
The Trojans defense will have to find ways create big plays against a Sun Devils team that’s currently ranked 25th in total offense.
Nine sacks and one interception might seem like decent numbers for most teams, but for USC, that’s somewhat disappointing, especially considering that a defense ran by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s is usually known for its speed and takeaways.
The Trojans will have to improve upon these numbers to stay atop the Pac-12 South.
After winning its first two games by single-digit margins, USC finally put on an offensive display that many have been waiting to see.
Woods continued his dominant play against Syracuse, finishing with eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown in the 38-17 victory.
To say that Woods is the focal point of the offense would be an understatement. His 33 receptions over the first three games of the season are the most ever by a Trojan over a three-game span, overtaking predecessors such as Mike Williams and Keyshawn Johnson.
Yet the Trojans can’t throw to Woods on every play. Opposing defenses are beginning to blanket him for most of the game. Other receivers have to step up.
It isn’t for a lack of talent, though.
Reigning Cal-Hi Sports State Athlete of the Year Marqise Lee (Serra HS) starts at receiver opposite Woods. The true freshman, along with red shirt freshmen tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, figure heavily into USC’s offensive plans. Their youth and inexperience present a natural learning curve that will only be remedied with time.
Barkley’s increased confidence in his receivers was evident against Syracuse as he had five touchdown passes, each to a different receiver, in helping move USC back into the AP Top 25 Poll at No. 23.
As the running game and defense continue to figure it out, it will be imperative for Barkley and Woods to put this team on their shoulders.
Their next test is this Saturday. Casual observers will be watching.
Check out the Sentinel Sports Section on Facebook and Twitter.
Sentinel Sports Section Facebook page:
Sentinel Sports Twitter page: