2009 USC Preview - Offense
USC WR Damian Williams
USC WR Damian Williams
Posted Jun 18, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - USC Trojan Offense

USC Trojans

Preview 2009
- Offense

- 2009 CFN USC Preview | 2009 USC Offense
- 2009 USC Defense | 2009 USC Depth Chart
- 2008 CFN USC Preview | 2007 USC Preview | 2006 CFN USC Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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
Best pro prospect: O’Dowd
Top 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

Projected Starter: 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.
Strength: Young 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 his top.
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: Is 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.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: 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 game.                  
Weakness: No 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 dissention grows.   
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.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: 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 quarterbacks better.

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 intermediate stuff.   

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 linebackers.

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 consistency.

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 enemy territory.
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.                                      
Weakness: 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.                                 
Outlook: It’s 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.
Rating: 8.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: 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.

Byers’ partner over at right guard is 6-4, 300-pound senior Alex Parsons, 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.

Projected Top 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 safeties.

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.

Caddying 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 down.

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. 
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: Last 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.
Rating: 10