Joey Kaufman of Conquest Chronicles was kind enough to answer some questions about USC leading up to Saturday's game.
1. What's your assessment of Matt Barkley in his second year as the starter? Is his focus on not throwing too many interceptions holding him back?
Barkley has certainly progressed in his second year as the Trojan's signal caller. That's really unquestionable; although, the competition hasn't been particularly impressive as of yet. Regardless, his touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 4:1, and he's among the national leaders in passing efficiency. That has to count for something. But there's still something that's holding him back. The numbers are much better, but at times, he has had a few head-scratching plays, particularly the 3rd & 4 throw against Washington. So, is he better? Yea, but he’s still not there yet.
2. The USC defense's struggles have been well documented this season, including on your site. What has been the biggest factor in the unit's rough start?
Got space for 10,000 words? (Ed. Yes.) But seriously, the problems are everyone. The defensive line isn’t getting enough pressure on the quarterbacks. The secondary is still young. The linebackers just aren’t that good. And there are serious question marks as to whether Monte Kiffin’s famed Tampa-2 defense can work on the college level, against all the spread offenses.
But, if I had to narrow it down, I think a lot of the blame needs to be placed on the linebacking unit, which has been nonexistent. In large part, that’s due to the class of 2009, which was expected to replace Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga, but failed to materialize. Of its four initial commits, Manti Te’o ended up at Notre Dame, Vontaze Burfict signed with Arizona State, and due to medical conditions, neither Jarvis Jones or Frankie Telfort has been able to suit up for ‘SC. Jones left for Georgia as a result, and Telfort will likely never play another down of football. As a result, they’ve been relegated to plan B, which includes a starting unit of Devon Kennard, Michael Morgan, and Malcolm Smith. So yes, there’s a bit of a dropoff.
I think the idea of redeeming oneself is largely out of the gameplanning for Kiffin. For one, he wasn’t here a year ago, so I doubt he cares. As a result, I think the template for USC to beat teams in the Pac-10 will be to lean heavily on the legs of Allen Bradford, who was absolutely phenomenal against Washington, rushing for 223 yards on 21 carries. By running the ball, it also helps to keep the opposing offense off the field, so there is a bit of an added incentive there. Look for them to keep the ball on the ground for a substantial portion of the game.
Absolutely not. The thing about college football, compared to the hoops scene, is that the regular season is the focus of the sport, as opposed to a one-game postseason. So, at least in the minds of most fans, this is still pretty serious business. The loss to Washington absolutely sucked, and in many was like the Oregon game last year, providing the sobering realization to the many of us that this team isn’t that good. After a horrid offseason, the last thing ‘SC fans want to see is more negative headlines (i.e. losses), so that hasn’t changed in the slightest.
Pete Carroll. Did he know about Bush? Should he have known? I don’t know, but I do know that under Carroll, ‘SC reeled off two national championships, seven Pac-10 titles, and a plethora of appearances in Pasadena for New Year’s Day. I’ll take him chances with Carroll, than a Lane Kiffin – who has just coached 18 games as a collegiate head coach.
6. What's your prediction for Saturday's game?
On paper, Stanford should roll over USC. They have the better coach, quarterback, and defense, so in all honesty, I don’t have much inclination to peg the Trojans as winners. But if it’s comforting in the slightest, the Cardinal run more of a pro-style offense, which should help to alleviate ‘SC’s defensive struggles against a spread attack. As a result, I look for this game to be a little closer, and low scoring, but should still result in a 34-21 victory for the Farm.