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2009 USC Preview - Offense
USC WR Damian Williams
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - USC Trojan Offense
2009 CFN USC Preview
2009 USC Offense
2009 USC Defense
2009 USC Depth
2008 CFN USC Preview
2007 USC Preview
2006 CFN USC
What you need to know:
Steve Sarkisian is now the head coach at Washington, which means
it’s time for another young, upwardly-mobile assistant to use
Troy as a career launching pad. Former Denver Broncos
quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates has taken the same position with
the Trojans, while also calling plays. A high-energy guy and
offensive innovator, he’ll immediately be under the microscope
as the program breaks the seal on a new starting quarterback.
Sophomore Aaron Corp earned the nod with a strong spring, but
true freshman Matt Barkley was all the rage, showing off his
cannon and surpassing veteran Mitch Mustain for the No. 2 job.
Whatever concerns Corp might have as a first-time starter should
be quelled by the presence of 14 players, who started a game in
2008. The Trojans are absolutely stacked everywhere, but
especially in the trenches, where the potential exists to be the
most dominant offensive line in the country.
Passing: Mitch Mustain
11-16, 157 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Stafon Johnson
138 carries, 705 yds, 9 TD
Receiving: Damian Williams
58 catches, 869 yds, 9 TD
Star of the offense:
Junior C Kristofer O’Dowd
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Sophomore QB Aaron Corp
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore RT Tyron Smith
pro prospect: O’Dowd
three all-star candidates: 1)
O’Dowd, 2) Junior WR
Damian Williams, 3)
Senior LG Jeff Byers
Strength of the offense: Speed,
depth at the skill positions, the offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
First-year starting quarterback
At least for now, USC has made a decision about Mark Sanchez’s
successor. Get ready to be inundated with 6-3, 200-pound
sophomore Aaron Corp,
who’s first in line at one of the highest profile jobs in all of
America. He progressed nicely throughout the spring, showing
good velocity on his throws and even better decision-making , a
real must for head coach Pete Carroll. He also has the most
mobility among the serious candidates, although he probably
won’t be forced to scramble very much this fall. Of course,
he’ll need to prove he can handle pressure of a different kind.
He has no relevant experience and that No. 7 in the rear view
mirror keeps getting bigger.
Projected Top Reserves:
That No. 7 is being worn by 6-2, 230-pound true freshman
sensation Matt Barkley.
He came on like a locomotive in his first spring, already
displacing Mitch Mustain as the backup and setting his sights on Corp. The kid
is flat out special. He has a natural feel for the position and
anticipation that makes you want to research his birth
certificate. He also possesses tremendous arm strength that
belong in the same league as Sanchez and Carson Palmer at
similar stages. Is he really ready to contend for this job as a
rookie? It sure looks that way.
This is certainly not how
Mustain planned it when he bolted from Arkansas two years ago.
By now, he figured he’d be at the controls, but barring an
injury, that does not look likely. Instead, he’ll have to settle
for being third string and likely never seeing the light of day.
At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he has enough arm strength to make all
the throws and a natural feel for the position. He’s also the
most experienced hurler, having started and won eight games with
the Hogs back in 2006. However, he doesn't have "it" compared to
Corps and Barkely and has been the clear No. 3 in the race.
Watch Out For…
Corp to start the opener, but Barkley to keep his foot on the
gas. Regardless of the depth chart, Barkley is forging ahead as
if he’ll be the man at some point in his first year. And it’s
that confidence, which is helping his case. Don’t be shocked if
Corp gets the nod for San Jose State and Ohio State, but Barkley
gradually takes over in a situation similar to Terrelle Pryor
and Todd Boeckman last September.
guns. Quick, name a school in the country with three former
high-school All-Americans on the depth chart. There isn’t one.
Just as a frame of reference, Mustain was one of the top-rated
hurlers of 2006, and he’s struggling to get out of the
three-hole. Coming out of high school, the Trojan quarterbacks
got enough scholarship offers to make an environmentalist blow
Experience. There’s no substitute for game experience, and these
guys have precious little of it. Although Mustain is the only
one to start a game at this level, he’s doubtful to be more than
an emergency quarterback. Corp and Barkley together have
combined to go 2-of-3 for 14 yards. With a trip to Columbus
looming in Week 2, it won’t take long for the Trojans’
inexperience to catch up to them.
this position ever boring at Troy? USC is loaded with
high-profile players, but not one who’s proven it on this big of
a stage. Corp is the guy for now, but with Barkley looking over
his shoulder, you’ve got to wonder if one bad performance could
be the seedling for a headline-grabbing controversy. Stay tuned
because this figures to be interesting all year long.
Just about everyone returns to a backfield that boasts about as
much depth as any squad in the country. While there’s no true
feature back who’ll get 20-25 carries every weekend, 5-11,
210-pound senior Stafon
Johnson would be installed as the favorite to lead the team
in rushing. Vastly underrated because of his surroundings, he’s
been first or second on the team in rushing the last two years,
running for a team-high 705 yards and nine scores on 138
carries. His best days might come in the NFL, where his
assertive running style and acceleration could finally get him
the reps he’s been seeking.
In 6-1, 230-pound junior
Stanley Havili, the
Trojans have one of the most talented and versatile fullbacks in
the country. Not your garden variety lead blocker, he can carry
in short yardage if you need him, or catch with the soft hands
of an H-back. In fact, a year ago, he was fourth on the team
with 24 receptions for 324 yards and three scores. Oh, he can
also lower the boom for his teammates and clear a path like a
more traditional fullback.
Projected Top Reserves:
The talent is clearly still there for 6-0, 190-pound junior
Joe McKnight. The expectations, however, may have been tempered a
bit. After two years, he remains one of the most exciting
open-field playmakers in the country, but durability concerns
have prevented him from really going bananas in a Heisman-esque
season. A year ago, he managed just 89 carries for 659 yards and
two scores, adding 21 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown.
Still, he’s so dynamic, Trojan coaches will still be looking for
new ways to get the ball in his hands.
With Johnson and
McKnight around, it’s easy to forget that 6-0, 205-pound junior
C.J. Gable actually
started 11 games in 2008 and ran for 617 yards and eight scores
on 107 carries. More of a slasher, he runs efficiently, hitting
the hole in a snap and using his vision and change of direction
to gobble up extra yards. He also has the size and strength to
be a feature back and wear out defenses late in games.
The battering ram of the backfield is 5-11, 235-pound junior
Allen Bradford, who
solid play in practice has yet to translate into significant
time in the fall. Even after a breakout spring in 2008, he was
only able to manage 14 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. If
the opportunity ever arises, he possesses the power and burst to
run through arm tackles and destroy defensive backs.
Watch Out For…
the coaching staff’s handling of the rotation to be questioned.
It’s become sort of an annual ritual around Troy. When you’ve
got five or backs who could legitimately start for half the
country’s programs, it’s impossible to keep everyone happy,
including the fans and media. As usual, don’t be shocked if
someone seeks a transfer before the opener, another annual thing
in these parts.
Strength: Tailback depth. Forget the numbers for a
second, which become watered down on an individual level. There
aren’t many—if any—programs in the country harboring so much
depth and talent at one position. USC is virtually injury-proof,
meaning even if one or two injuries wouldn’t derail the ground
established every-down back. All that depth is great, but is it
possible to have too much of a good thing? With so many runners
demanding snaps, the Trojans won’t have that single back, who
can get on a tear and rush for 1,000 yards. Most runners are at
their best when they get enough reps to develop a rhythm rather
than spending half the game on the sidelines. Plus, when too
many thoroughbreds are left in the stable, the possibility of
Outlook: As is
the case with so many Trojan units, Pete Carroll will be forced
to perform a juggling act to be sure that all of his best skill
position players are well fed throughout the year. It’ll be a
weekly challenge. Figure Johnson and McKnight, assuming he’s
healthy, to get the bulk of the work, while Gable, Bradford, and
even Curtis McNeal
and Marc Tyler scrap and claw for a bigger spotlight.
With nine of last year’s top 10 pass-catchers back, USC is
loaded at wide receiver and tight end. The cover boy of the
group is 6-1, 195-pound junior flanker
Damian Williams, who
erupted for 58 catches for 869 yards and nine touchdowns in his
first year since transferring from Arkansas. A complete and
competitive receiver, he has it all, from sub-4.5 speed and
great hands to crisp routes and underrated downfield blocking.
He’s the type of receiver, who’ll help make the young
Taking over for Patrick Turner at
split end will be mercurial 6-0, 190-pound junior
Ronald Johnson. While
always one of the swiftest players on the roster, he became a
more polished downfield receiver in 2008, making fewer mistakes
and pulling down 33 balls for 570 yards and eight touchdowns in
a reserve role. His ability to get separation on defensive backs
stretches the defense and opens up the field for the
After starting every
game a year ago, 6-5, 250-pound senior
Anthony McCoy is back
for one final season at tight end. An honorable mention
All-Pac-10 selection, he caught a career-high 22 passes for 256
yards and a touchdown. His size, speed, and overall athletic
ability is enough to create matchup problems with opposing
Projected Top Reserves:
The top reserve off the bench is 6-4, 235-pound junior
David Ausberry, Johnson’s backup at split end. The Trojans like
their receivers jumbo-sized, and he fills the bill, using his
size and strength to get position and bounce off would-be
tacklers. While he only had six catches for 85 yards and a
touchdown, he’s going to soar past those numbers with improved
Settling behind Williams is 5-10, 175-pound junior Travon Patterson, a much smaller, quicker version of the starter. A
sprinter on the Trojan track squad, he has the jets to take a
short hitch and go the distance with the help of his blockers.
Considering how explosive he can be in space, the staff would
like to find new ways to get the ball in his hands.
Although the No. 2 tight end is 6-5, 255-pound sophomore
Rhett Ellison, he’d be a starter on a bunch of teams around the
country. While he doesn’t have the flash of McCoy and only
caught four balls, he’s a steady performer with fantastic hands,
raising the likelihood the Trojans will use more two-tight end
sets this season.
Watch Out For… more reps for Ausberry, especially
near the end zone. He didn’t quite have the confidence of the
coaches last year, but that’s begun to change in the offseason.
On jump balls, in particular, he has the size, strength, and
flair for the acrobatic that make him a natural option deep in
Strength: Triangle numbers. The USC receivers are a
collection of elite athletes capable of exposing defensive backs
with their size, speed, and ability to climb the tree. The
Trojans essentially go three-deep with thoroughbreds, who are at
least 6-0 and 200 pounds and run in the 4.5 range. Good luck
corralling all of those athletes.
Consistency. Scary athletes? Yes. Scary receivers? Not always.
It’s better than a year ago, but collectively, this unit needs
to take another step forward in its maturation by running
crisper routes, cutting down on dropped passes, and generally
becoming more reliable targets for the young quarterbacks.
taken a couple of years to rebuild, but USC is finally at a
point where its receivers and tight ends are on par with the
rest of the offensive talent. With Williams eyeing an
All-America season and everyone around him a year older, the
Trojans will frustrate opposing defenses with an intimidating
blend of size, speed, and big-play potential.
Last year, USC was forced to break in four new starters on the
offensive line. This year, the Trojans reap the benefits, as the
entire two-deep returns intact. The crown jewel of the front
wall is 6-5, 300-pound junior
Kristofer O’Dowd, who’s poised to take another step toward becoming
the nation’s best center.
Already an All-Pac-10 first teamer after just two seasons,
he’s the total package at the position, combining outstanding
footwork and power with the leadership, toughness, and
communication skills of a four-year starter. Start making
reservations for the All-America team.
Next to O’Dowd at
left guard will be cagey, 6-3, 290-pound
Jeff Byers, a sixth-year senior enjoying a rebirth at the tail end
of his career. After missing the 2005 and 2006 seasons to
injuries, he’s regrouped nicely to earn all-conference honors
the last two seasons. A tireless technician and the most
cerebral member of the line, he’s an inspiration and a role
model, especially for the younger Trojans.
over at right guard is 6-4, 300-pound senior
provided he can hold on to the job. He started the final 10
games of 2008 and played well, especially as a pass protector. A
good all-around athlete and a model of versatility, he began his
career as a defensive tackle and can play multiple positions on
the offensive line.
The Trojans’ premier tackle is 6-6,
285-pound senior Charles Brown, the quarterback’s blindside protector. With the NFL
closely monitoring his progress, he could be ready for a
breakthrough year after being named honorable mention All-Pac-10
as a first time starter. A converted tight end, he’s
successfully added weight without losing agility or the
athleticism that’s helped make him successful.
The youngest member of the starting unit is
6-6, 285-pound sophomore
Tyron Smith, one of the most decorated recruits from the
2008 class. A letterwinner as a true freshman, he appeared in 10
games, gaining the knowledge and experience that’ll serve him
well this fall. A phenomenal athlete for his size, he has the
tenacity and the light feet to blossom into a bona fide star and
Brown’s successor at left tackle by 2010.
Reserves: Parsons may have finished the season as a
starter, but 6-5, 290-pound senior
Nick Howell is not
going away in a tight battle at right guard. He actually started
six games at right tackle last year, but was moved inside on a
permanent basis. A little more finesse than ferocious, he can
get out to the second level in a hurry and bury linebackers and
At left tackle, 6-5, 285-pound junior
Butch Lewis is like
having another starter on the second unit. In fact, he started
seven games on the right side a year ago, including the Rose
Bowl win over Penn State. Yet another quality athlete, who
slides well, he provides a ton of experience and should be back
in the hunt for a starting job again in 2010.
for Byers at left guard will be 6-5, 290-pound junior
Zack Heberer, a
two-time letterman and a three-game starter in 2008 before turf
toe started getting in the way. One of the strongest of the
linemen, he’s rugged at the point of attack and never takes a
play off. Seemingly buried at No. 2 right now, he’s an
outstanding insurance policy in the event that someone goes
Watch Out For…
the maturation of Smith. Not only is he a can’t-miss prospect,
but he’ll be able to develop on a line that’s flush with
experienced veterans. He’ll be worth watching because aside from
O’Dowd, he has the highest ceiling of any of the linemen, which
is saying a mouthful.
Strength: Depth and talent. If you suspended all five
starters, USC would probably still have one of the top 25
offensive lines in the country. And that’s not hyperbole. No one
in America has a two-deep with this much depth, talent, and
starting experience. If the Trojans get four linemen on the
All-Pac-10 team, it shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Durability. It’s about the only potential flaw that can be found
with this group. Byers was brittle in the past and O’Dowd missed
the spring following shoulder surgery. Losing O’Dowd for any
length of time would be a big blow, even for this ensemble.
year, the Trojans rebuilt. This year, they dominate. With
apologies to Texas and Florida, no one in the country will have
a better offensive line. Arguably the best collection of
blockers in the Pete Carroll era, they have it all, from depth
and experience to run blocking and pass protection. This is
Exhibit A why the new starting quarterback should feel at ease
heading into the season.