From our resident guru, here is John Skinner with the Skinny on USC’s 18-15 win over Ohio State.
1- McKnight shines when it counts: Though Matt Barkley is getting most of the praise for USC’s final improbable game winning drive, Joe McKnight accounted for about 2/3 of SC’s yardage on the drive and ran with a purpose we haven’t consistently seen from him. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of Reggie Bush but he does have the moves and showed Trojan fans that he can put the team on his back and get them down the field when it counts. Without McKnight on the final drive SC is probably 1-1.
McKnight Part II: Though McKnight was the major player on the final drive, he needs to improve his pass blocking to help the offense get going. He has a hard time picking up the blitz and one time a Defensive End just flat out ran around him causing a sack. Last year, SC was fairly predictable when McKnight was in the game and he has to be multi-dimensional for SC to get away from showing its cards offensively.
Thoughts on Barkley, the Defense and Special Teams after the jump.
2- Barkley’s Performance: Matt Barkley showed why many people have said he has the “it” factor when leading the Trojans on the improbable final drive. His confidence on the drive (and the drive at the beginning of the first half) never waivered and he was able to survive an extremely hostile situation and come out with a win. A huge weight should be lifted from his shoulders and he became a leader on the team.
At the same time, SC fans should temper expectations for Barkley this year. The speed of the college game is overwhelming to him and it will take some time for him to really be able to properly check down. He is naturally locking into his first option and needs to shake that tendency. If you take away the final drive, his performance against Ohio State would be considered poor. However, he got the job done when it counted and once he becomes comfortable it will be skies the limit for this offense and hopfully his adjustment period to the college game doesn’t cost SC a victory or two.
3- Defense was the MVP: On 11 USC drives, The Trojans were forced to punt five times, four of them just after three plays and a fifth three and out would have been recorded except for the high snap that led to a safety. Furthermore, Ohio State started at or near mid-field 4 or 5 times in the second half and only scored 3 points! If it wasn’t for Gallippo’s interception the offense would have only scored 10 points. With the exception of Taylor Mays overpursuing on one pass play, Ohio State would not have reached the end zone. The team speed is phenomenal and the tackling was much improved from the San Jose State game. Defensive lineman Everson Griffen and Jurrel Casey took over in the 4th quarter.
4- Special Teams needs a little help: I have been touting the special teams quite a bit and still believe they will play a key factor in the success of the team this year. Coach Schneider is one of the best but the lack of a solid punter and any flair on the kick return team is a little troublesome. It was also surprising to see a high snap resulting in a safety. I don’t remember the last time that happened on a Pete Carroll coached team. Look for kick-off specialist Jake Harfman to get a solid look at punter and also on field goals longer than 40 yards. Field goal kicker Jonathan Congdon is great inside 40 yards but doesn’t have the leg for anything much further.