2011 USC Preview – Offense
USC WR Robert Woods
USC WR Robert Woods
Posted May 20, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - USC Trojan Offense

USC Trojans

Preview 2011 - Offense

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What you need to know: While there were misfires along the way, the Trojan offense played well in Lane Kiffin's first season, running a balanced attack that averaged more than 400 yards and 30 points a game. The key constant from that group will be the Matt Barkley-to-Robert Woods hook-up, which is certain to become one of the nation's most feared pitch-and-catch combos. What's not so certain are the offensive line and the identity of the feature back. The front wall lost three starters, including first round pick Tyron Smith, and has spent the offseason trying to overcome various injuries. Rookies, like Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker, will quickly be thrust into prominent roles this summer. Last year's leading rusher Marc Tyler is back, but he's getting challenged by his own lack of focus and some gifted kids behind him. Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, in particular, looked great in the spring and has a chance to steal a number of carries from the incumbent this fall.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Matt Barkley
236-377, 2,791 yds, 26 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Marc Tyler
171 carries, 913 yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: Robert Woods
65 catches, 792 yds, 6 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior QB Matt Barkley
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Matt Kalil
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB D.J. Morgan
Best pro prospect: Barkley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sophomore WR Robert Woods, 2) Barkley, 3) Kalil
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, speed at the skill positions, running back depth, red zone conversions
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback depth, the offensive line, consistency at wide receiver


State of the Unit: The Trojans retain the services of their franchise quarterback, who's about to hit the tarmac, but the situation behind him is rather suspect and unsettled. The graduation of career backup Mitch Mustain leaves Troy with a half-dozen reserves, with not a single passing attempt between them. Realistically, it'll be auditioning three blue-chippers, a redshirt freshman and two rookies, to see who is No. 2 and gets a leg up on the competition to be the starter in the future.

The general consensus is that elite quarterbacks don't truly begin the corner until their third year on campus. USC has its fingers crossed that that'll be the case with 6-2, 220-pound junior Matt Barkley, the franchise quarterback and third-year starter behind center. He clearly progressed in 2010, completing 236-of-377 passes for 2,791 yards, 26 touchdowns and a dozen. However, the staff realizes he can be so much more once he starts to play with a higher level of consistency. One of the most physically gifted young quarterbacks in America, he throws with maximum RPMs and has the mechanics and football IQ of a fifth-year senior. He's also taking on more of a leadership role, leaving no doubt that he's the face of this program.

Although not quite anointed as such by the staff, 6-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins is the favorite to be Barkley's caddy. A can't-miss recruit from 2010, he's a strong-armed pocket passer, who just happens to be a quality athlete as well. While still raw, he's added muscle and has made outstanding strides since arriving. Scroggins is being chased by a couple of true freshmen, who already took part in spring drills. Max Wittek is a 6-4, 205-pounder who gets great zip on his passes and plays the game with a high-risk, high-reward mentality. However, he appears to be behind 6-2, 220-pound Cody Kessler , a poised, charismatic player who be the biggest threat to Scroggins at No. 2.

Watch Out For .... Scroggins to hold on and even get occasional reps during the season. Ideally, the staff would like to prepare Scroggins to be the successor and allow Wittek and Kessler to spend a season learning as a redshirt. The redshirt freshman has made considerable strides since 2010, and will need to be groomed in the event that Barkley leaves for the NFL in January.
Strength: Powerful arms. Oh, Barkley gets all of the pub, but he's far from the only gunslinger in Los Angeles. The quartet of contenders can make all of the throws, reaching the speedy Trojan receivers downfield and fitting throws into tight windows. There's a reason why the young Trojan hurlers copped more than 200 offers combined coming out of high school.
Weakness: Consistency. Just because Barkley evolved in 2010 doesn't mean that there isn't more room for growth. In fact, the Trojan coaches are insisting that the rising junior does a better job of decision-making, reading defenses, and throwing with accuracy. USC needs to see a little more of the quarterback who threw for 390 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks in the October loss to Stanford.
Outlook: This is a critical year for USC at quarterback. Not only is it Year 3 for Barkley, but the three heralded underclassmen need to prepare as if they could be on the field at any moment and might be the successor in 2012. With so much youth surrounding him, it's time for Barkley to take on more of a leadership role and begin playing like one of the nation's elite passers.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

State of the Unit: The Trojan running backs will be a work-in-progress that lost some key cogs, but has always had a knack for recruiting this area exceeding well. So, even though just three returners have carried the ball at this level, USC is confident it can still run the ball with its usual success. Second-leading rusher Allen Bradford is one of the dearly departed, but Stanley Havili is an even bigger loss. One of the nation's top all-around fullback, his absence will be felt in the running and the passing game.

Coming out of spring, there was a logjam at tailback, with four Trojans vying for the feature role. Senior Marc Tyler led the 2010 in rushing, going for 913 yards and nine scores on 171 carries, but that won't guarantee a job this fall. He missed much of spring with a hamstring injury and a concussion, and his conditioning has been under scrutiny. When healthy, he's a bruiser, a 5-11, 230-pound north-south runner who will carry tacklers with him. Lacking the durability to ever play to his full potential, he gave a glimpse of his capabilities a year ago.

Tyler's stiffest competition is coming from 6-0, 175-pound redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan , the program's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year. Arguably the most complete back in the stable, he has exciting jets and the hands to be a valuable receiver out of the backfield. He's actually surged ahead of 6-0, 195-pound sophomore Dillon Baxter , the more heralded recruit from a year ago. He played as a rookie, though not as much as he'd have liked, carrying 59 times for 252 yards and a score. A multi-dimensional talent, with tremendous balance and cuts, he'll be used in the wildcat and on obvious passing downs. Junior Curtis McNeal , like Morgan, has helped his cause with a fantastic offseason. An academic casualty a year ago, the 5-7, 185-pounder is tougher than his frame indicates and has gamebreaking moves and change-of-direction in the open field.

The likely successor to Havili at fullback is 6-2, 255-pound true freshman Soma Vainuku . The Trojans ask a lot of their fullbacks, so this will be a tall order for such a young player. However, he possesses the intelligence, size, and soft hands to blossom into a terrific player once the experience comes.

Watch Out For … Tyler's numbers to tumble in 2011. He's a solid runner, but only when he's properly motivated and conditioned. That didn't seem to be the case in the spring when he arrived overweight. With the competition improving and the coaches growing impatient, Tyler is liable to get trumped in his final season.
Strength: Diversity. Whatever the need, the Trojans will be able to address it with this year's crop of running backs. If you want power, especially in short yardage, Tyler is one of the toughest runners in the Pac-12. Morgan might be the most complete back on the roster. McNeal is a playmaker, providing an instant jolt of energy. Baxter is the most versatile and the choice to take direct snaps.
Weakness: Proven players. Tyler is the most experienced Trojan back, and he's had durability and weight issues throughout his career. After the senior, Troy is flush with young backs who still have to prove that they're as talented they were in high school. Baxter and Morgan are just second-year players, and the all-important fullback position might be manned by a rookie.
Outlook: It's USC, so the talent in the backfield is pretty much built in. However, that shouldn't suggest that the running game is on completely solid footing. The fullback was in high school last fall, and a starter at tailback has yet to be named. It'll be worth keeping an eye on Morgan's growth and Tyler's, well, growth. The Trojans need their leading returning rusher to shed the extra pounds he was carrying in April.
Unit Rating: 7.5


State of the Unit: At wide receiver, it's all about the maturity and development for USC. The Trojans lose gifted speedster Ronald Johnson and fellow NFL draftees, Jordan Cameron and David Ausberry, but have recruited pass-catchers as well as any other program in America over the last couple of years. The key will be to coach up the kids as quickly as possible in order to give Matt Barkley the reliable and explosive targets that he desperately needs to move another step forward.

The breakout star of the receiving corps—if not the entire program—last year was 6-1, 185-pound sophomore flanker Robert Woods . The staff knew he was going to be good, but no one figured he'd be so good, so fast. A Freshman All-American in his debut out of high school, he led the team with 65 catches for 792 yards and six touchdowns. A smooth operator, who's polished beyond his years, he has a habit of making things look easy and is still getting better.

At split end, 6-1, 195-pound senior Brandon Carswell is holding a slight edge over his younger competitors. More reliable than spectacular, especially compared to the kids behind him, he caught a career-high 16 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. Closing in on Carswell are a couple of second-year Trojans, 6-2, 215-pound Markeith Ambles and 6-5, 210-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Prater . Prater was one of the most coveted recruits in the country a year ago, but has been limited so far by injuries. Once he gets in a groove, he has the catch radius and hands to become the next big superstar at the position for the program. Ambles also has incredible upside potential and measurables, but hasn't helped his cause by dropping too many passes and contemplating a transfer last winter.

Behind Woods at flanker is 6-0, 185-pound sophomore De'Von Flournoy , who's just itching to get back on the field. He had a hamstring problem last year, opting to sit out the season as a redshirt. He has the burst and elusiveness in the open field to blossom into a playmaker once he earns some snaps.

One of the more underrated Trojans is 6-5, 245-pound senior Rhett Ellison , the school's new starting tight end. An All-Pac-10 honorable mention last year, he just does a lot of little things well, like blocking and catching. In the most extensive action of his career, he caught 21 balls for 239 yards and three touchdowns.

Watch Out For … the arrival of true freshman split end George Farmer . He has a lot of ground to make up, but then again, so did Woods when he arrived a year ago. The two were equally heralded, played together at Serra (Calif.) High School, and aren't afraid to challenge their elders for snaps.
Strength: Triangle numbers. Purely in terms of the measurables, such as size, speed, and leaping ability, USC has as much physical ability as anyone in the country. The Trojans are cobbling together a corps of elite athletes, who can challenge defensive backs both vertically and horizontally.
Weakness: Consistency. Lethal athletes? Yup. Polished receivers? Not quite. Aside from Woods, who's mature way beyond his years, the Trojans are still pups in many areas. If they're going to make Matt Barkley's life a little easier this fall, as a group, they'll need to improve their route-running and blocking, and cut down on their dropped balls.
Outlook: Woods is a budding mega-star on the outside, a sophomore who's on the same page as the quarterback and about to become one of the nation's dozen or so elite receivers. After No. 2, however, someone else needs to step up and absorb some of the pressure. Carswell is the kind of high-character, hard worker, who's liable to catch 45 passes and put together a career-year in his finale. It'll be interesting to see if one of the young thoroughbreds can join him.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: No unit in Los Angeles is under greater scrutiny than the offensive line. And for good reason. The Trojans are tissue-thin, coming off a rocky and injury-filled spring, and set to count on rookies to contribute immediately. It's an unquestioned trouble spot that lost five veterans in the offseason and brings back just two blockers with significant reps on their resume.

Is this the year that 6-7, 295-pound junior Matt Kalil begins playing like a future first-day NFL draft choice? USC needs him to be that guy at left tackle, especially since he'll be protecting Matt Barkley's backside. The starter in all 13 games last fall, he has the requisite ingredients to whet GM's appetite, possessing the long arms and light feet to seal off the edge. If he can go out and deliver on a weekly basis, the accolades and attention are sure to follow.

The situation at right tackle is quite a bit more murky. The frontrunner is 6-6, 300-pound sophomore Kevin Graf, though his experience is limited and he missed the spring recovering from shoulder surgery. He plays with all of the physicality of a guard, something the staff is hoping to see more of this fall. Junior Jeremy Galten is trying to keep Graf from the top of the depth chart. A transfer from San Mateo (Calif.) Junior College, his versatility will be particularly appreciated at a school that'll do a lot of mixing and matching this fall.

The big news on the inside is that 6-4, 300-pound junior Khaled Holmes, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 guard, is moving to center to fill a need. He could be just the right choice for the Trojans. Quick, both physically and intellectually, he'll bring an element of confidence and stability to the pivot as long as his snaps are clean. Bucking to replace him at right guard is 6-5, 335-pound senior Martin Coleman , one of the few veterans up front. A former prep All-American, he has one more chance to fulfill expectations, suffering from injuries throughout an uneventful college career. Left guard is shaping up as a battle between 6-2, 290-pound sophomore John Martinez and 6-6, 295-pound redshirt freshman Giovanni Di Poalo . A tenacious and nimble converted center, he only appeared in three games last season. Di Poalo can also play center, another high-motor type who will battle to the whistle. Both of the candidates at left guard will battle until the play is over, making the other guy earn everything he gets.

Watch Out For … the rookies. In particular, RG Cyrus Hobbi and RT Aundrey Walker are going to get an opportunity to play immediately. At a minimum, both are likely to avoid getting redshirted in 2011, playing pivotal roles in the rotation.
Strength: Drive blocking. The Trojans boast good size, especially on the interior, and the raw power to bully opponents off the line of scrimmage. Yeah, some of the pieces have changed, but the front wall did a nice job at the point of attack in 2010, paving the way for the nation's No. 25 ground game and more than five yards a carry.
Weakness: Depth and durability. The two go hand-in-hand, which was obvious in the spring. The Trojans have a serious lack of depth up front, which has been complicated by the number of players on the shelf. If all goes well, USC is capable of delivering a very talented first unit, but beyond that, the line is inexperienced and gets thin in a hurry.
Outlook: The weakest link of the offense, the line is a work-in-progress that's going to spend at least the first month gelling. Although Kalil and Holmes clearly have the potential, there's no true anchor yet, and depth will be an on-going concern. For the rest of the offense to reach its goals, this unit will have to allay growing concerns and exceed expectations.
Unit Rating: 7.5

- 2011 USC Preview | 2011 USC Offense
- 2011 USC Defense | 2011 USC Depth Chart
- USC Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006