Skip to content

And in that corner… The Southern California Trojans

Nov 21, 2012, 11:58 AM EDT

USC v UCLA Getty Images

Well folks, it doesn’t get any bigger than this one. With Thanksgiving upon us, it’s Notre Dame’s biennial trip to Los Angeles, with this showdown in the Coliseum meaning more than any other in recent memory for the Irish.

As we’ve discussed (and will continue to discuss for the next few days), Trojan’s quarterback Matt Barkley is out for the game after a nasty blindside sack sprained his shoulder. That leaves the Trojans with redshirt freshman Max Wittek piloting the dangerous USC aerial attack.

There are more storylines than we can keep track of this weekend. Helping us get us up to speed is Shotgun Spratling, a writer for Conquest Chronicles, a writer at College Baseball Daily, and a USC Graduate Journalist.

I threw the kitchen sink at Shotgun and he delivered with some great stuff. Hope you enjoy.

***

1) Let’s just start with the obvious. How disappointing is this season? Looking back now, is it easier to see some of the flaws that have tripped up this Trojan team?

Whenever you start the season with not only dreams, aspirations, hopes, but also some level of expectations, of battling for the national championship, there is a tremendous amount of disappointment when that comes crashing down. Everyone knows there is tons of talent, but it hasn’t been fully realized. Losing to Stanford and Oregon, who have been the premier Pac-12 programs the last few years, is one thing, but losing to a pair of first-year head coaches was out of the realm of thought at the beginning of the season.

The flaws have been pretty obvious throughout the season. Turnovers have absolutely terrorized USC this year. The Trojans have the fifth most turnovers in the country. In fact, Houston is the only other school in the country that has forced 25+ turnovers and doesn’t have a positive turnover margin. Penalties were a problem earlier in the year and depth has been an issue, but in USC’s losses the turnovers have been difference makers.

2) While it sounds like Lane Kiffin’s job is safe, the assumption is that his father Monte’s is not. Can you put this season on the Trojan defense? From a statistical point of view, the numbers are disappointing, but not awful. What’s been the problem on the defensive side of the ball? Will replacing the older Kiffin solve them?

The defense has a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, so giving up yards isn’t that big of a deal. But it has also just been plain bad at times. The Oregon game was absolutely atrocious. The players were not well prepared and weren’t disciplined enough to play the assignment football that is required to stop a spread option attack like Oregon’s.

There have been times when scheme has been the problem. For example, Monte Kiffin is over reliant on the base Cover-2 in third-and-long situations. USC gave up a crucial 3rd-and-10 run on Stanford’s go-ahead touchdown drive, a 3rd-and-22 on Arizona’s and a 3rd-and-13 on UCLA’s final scoring drive.

But players have also not made plays. Lane Kiffin said earlier this week that USC missed 23 tackles against UCLA; Lamar Dawson has struggled with assignments and angles at middle linebacker; and the No. 2 cornerback position has been a concern all season.

With as much clamoring as there has been for Monte’s head during the past two seasons, some type of move seems inevitable, especially because of how much he has struggled to make in-game adjustments against spread offensive attacks.

3) Matt Barkley’s senior season has been pretty disappointing. He’s made some puzzling decisions for a senior quarterback that’s played four full seasons of football and as it often happens, his senior year has been less of a victory tour and more of an opportunity for pundits and scouts to pick holes in his game. Where do you see Barkley going in the draft? What’s his ceiling? Did he make a mistake returning?

Personally, I never think it is a mistake for any player to return to school. For most of us schmoes, college is the best four years of our lives. For Barkley, I think it was the right move to make. Last year, he was, at best, the third best QB prospect and there were questions about his game.

He was able to work on his game and has answered some of those questions this season. Barkley has shown the ability to throw the deep ball much better this season, and he has had more opportunities to run an uptempo no-huddle offense, including making quick reads and calls at the line of scrimmage. He definitely hasn’t proven to be a can’t miss prospect. Barkley’s likely not the top guy in this year’s QB class, as was expected before the season, but this year’s class is much thinner than last season and there are several teams that will be looking for a new man under center.

Barkley has some limitations (height, arm strength, athleticism) and will have to prove his current shoulder sprain is of no future concern. However, he should still be in New York to hear his name called in the middle of the first round. His ceiling is as high as the draft position of a team that falls in love with his blonde hair, wide smile and Southern Cali charm (and maybe also his quarterbacking skills).

4) Do you get the feeling that USC fans are tired of Lane Kiffin’s act? Storming out of press conferences, switching numbers during games, going for two? Pete Thamel’s SI.com article heaped a lot of blame on Kiffin for the disappointing season. Do you think Pat Haden is wrong to be putting his belief in Kiffin?

A lot of fans are fed up with this season and everything that has happened. Kiffin’s never going to be a guy like Mike Riley that everyone loves, but if USC was 10-1 or 11-0, most people wouldn’t care about the media access issues or the number switching. However, when the team is a disappointing 7-4, the little things quickly add up.

If any of the small disturbances have been enough to distract the players then Kiffin definitely deserves blame, but fans quickly forget that after the sanctions USC was supposed to revert to being an average to mediocre team for the next five or six years.

Part of the reason, I believe Haden has been behind Kiffin is because Haden realizes how well the coaching staff has navigated the tumult of the sanctions thus far. Granted, that isn’t a ‘Get Out of Jail FREE’ card, but none of Kiffin’s incidents this season have had to do with running amok of the NCAA so he’s earned enough cache to get him through this season. If next season is anything like this year, that’s when I could see Haden making a move and bringing in his own coach.

5) Marqise Lee is putting up Heisman Trophy worthy numbers for a four-loss team. Even without Matt Barkley, how dangerous is this offense?

When the offensive line plays well, the offense is still capable of being Mortal Kombat deadly. Some even believe the offense will be more dangerous than it has been the last few games because Max Wittek may spread the ball around more than Barkley has this season.

While Marqise Lee has been out of this world and would potentially be the Heisman frontrunner if USC’s record was better, other offensive weapons have been rusting in the barn. The lack of production (and targets) for Robert Woods has even prompted the hashtags #freewoody and #freerobertwoods on Twitter. The Trojans also have a pair of dynamic tight ends that often get overlooked until in the red zone.

Wittek has the arm strength to make some throws Barkley can’t, but will Kiffin be aggressive with a young quarterback that has a reputation as a risk taker? Two years ago against Notre Dame, Kiffin didn’t trust senior Mitch Mustain enough to open up the playbook. Will he trust Wittek?

6) At the end of a disappointing season, do the Trojans have the mental fortitude to spring the upset? What’s the recipe for success for USC?

USC has too much talent to be counted out in this game…especially considering it is a rivalry game where anything that can happen is liable to happen.

Recipe for Success:
1) USC has to continue playing with more discipline. The Trojans have committed only 13 penalties in the last three games.
2) Win the trenches. Whoever can establish a strong rushing attack takes the pressure off their redshirt freshman quarterback. The defense that stops the run game puts the onus on a freshman quarterback in the biggest game of his life.
3) If the Trojans can hold onto the ball, avoiding the turnovers that have plagued them this season, they have a great shot at upsetting the No. 1 Irish for the third time in this historic rivalry.

Latest Posts
  1. Video Roundup from Spring Practice

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly, Malik Zaire Brian Kelly, Malik Zaire

    With Brian Kelly hosting his annual coaches clinic, Notre Dame’s practice field is filled with high school coaches (and some intriguing recruits) taking a look under the hood of the Irish program.

  2. Spring Mailbag: Tillery, Optimism, and practice updates

    Mar 27, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT

    247Sports.com 247Sports.com

    Let’s get to part one of the mailbag. Some very good questions here, so check back over the weekend as there’ll be more to come.

  3. Bars and Nelson impressing at left guard

    Mar 26, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

    Quenton Nelson

    Matt Hegarty’s unexpected departure opened up a job along the offensive line. With fifth-year center Nick Martin back in the middle, Hegarty choosing to go somewhere else to play center opened up the competition at left guard.

  4. Expectations for Jerry Tillery sky high

    Mar 25, 2015, 1:17 PM EDT

    247Sports.com 247Sports.com

    Jerry Tillery’s recruitment was anything but ordinary. Long committed to the Irish, Notre Dame held off LSU, with Les Miles and the Tigers’ coaching staff doing everything they could to talk the local product into staying home.

  5. Spring practice mailbag: Now Open

    Mar 25, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    Drop your questions below. Or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  6. After injury detour, Jarrett Grace looks to be back on track

    Mar 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    While our inside looks at Notre Dame’s spring practice have been few and far between (blink and you could miss the footage from the YouTube practice reports), the little news that’s been coming out of the Gug has been good.

  7. Elston ready to make his mark on Notre Dame recruiting

    Mar 23, 2015, 3:26 PM EDT

    USA Today USA Today

    Notre Dame landed three recruiting commitments coming out of the weekend’s Junior Day. And if it’s up to Mike Elston, there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

  8. Running back Tony Jones Jr. commits to Irish

    Mar 22, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    This weekend’s Junior Day netted another recruit, with Notre Dame’s coaching staff accepting the commitment of Florida running back Tony Jones Jr. The IMG Academy runner was in South Bend this weekend, and is the first running back in the fold for the Irish in the 2016 class.

  9. Junior Day nets commitments from Julian Love, John Shannon

    Mar 21, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class took a big step forward on Saturday, gaining commitments from cornerback Julian Love and long snapper John Shannon. Both Love and Shannon pledged their commitment after receiving offers this afternoon from the Irish staff.

  10. 2016 recruiting begins with weekend Junior Day

    Mar 20, 2015, 1:41 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    Notre Dame’s coaching staff begins their 2016 recruiting efforts this weekend with its first on-campus Junior Day. While the reshuffled staff had an opportunity to hit the road in February, the Irish coaches will host their first major recruiting event of the spring this weekend.

  11. Jeff Quinn officially joins staff as offensive analyst

    Mar 19, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Jeff Quinn Jeff Quinn

    When Notre Dame announced Brian Kelly’s reshuffled coaching staff, one name many expected to be part of the release wasn’t. Former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn—an offensive coordinator and line coach for Kelly for decades—had been long rumored for a staff position, but wasn’t part of Kelly’s reshuffled team of assistants.

  12. Two different roads to return for Russell and Williams

    Mar 19, 2015, 11:22 AM EDT

    Notre Dame at USC AP

    As Brian Kelly kicked off spring practice with his press conference Tuesday, he gave a long-awaited update on exiled players KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

  13. Video Roundup: Spring Practice Begins

    Mar 18, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    Notre Dame kicked off spring practice bright and early Wednesday morning. With our first look at the Irish as they prepare for the 2015 season, Brian Kelly’s troops were ready for action, even if they were relegated to helmets and shorts.

  14. Irish open spring: Five quick updates from BK

    Mar 17, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With Irish eyes already smiling thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, Notre Dame fans got a free double-down with Brian Kelly’s opening press conference before spring practice starts tomorrow.

  15. Notre Dame, Ball State set to meet in 2018

    Mar 16, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT

    Pete Lembo Pete Lembo

    It looks as if another piece of Notre Dame’s non-ACC football scheduling has come into place. Ball State has announced an agreement to play at Notre Dame Stadium in early September of 2018, likely locking in the Irish’s second opponent of the season.

  16. The road to a successful 2015 season is just getting started

    Mar 16, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT

    USA TODAY Sports USA TODAY Sports

    After Notre Dame’s men won an improbable ACC basketball title, the team and their head coach did little to shy away from their difficulties in the NCAA tournament.

    #NotDoneYet adorns every tweet coming from the team’s official account, and likely serves as a mantra for a team that’s shown flashes of brilliance during regular seasons past, but too often became pumpkins in mid-March.

  17. Notre Dame Mailbag: It’s all about the Quarterbacks

    Mar 13, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    One question, asked a half-dozen different ways. And it’s all about the quarterbacks.

  18. Mailbag: Now Open

    Mar 12, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    With spring practice beginning next week, let’s open up the mailbag.

  19. Tracking fifth-year spots and the bumpy road to 85 scholarships

    Mar 11, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT

    Jarrett Grace Jarrett Grace

    With Notre Dame on break, the campus is quiet one week before spring practice gets started. But the work inside the Gug is still likely underway, with recruiting efforts for the 2016 cycle pushing forward and discussions about the 2015 roster taking center stage.

  20. No change to CFB Playoff a good thing for Notre Dame

    Mar 10, 2015, 2:53 PM EDT

    Jack Swarbrick

    The only reviews of the College Football Playoff that matter are in. And after one year and a whole lot of excitement and unpredictability, don’t expect to see any changes coming soon.