The Skinny: Another USC-ND Classic: Almost a Repeat of 2005 in Reverse

When Jimmy Clausen threw an incomplete pass in the end zone and the clock showed 0:00, the USC football team and its fans were celebrating much like the Irish fans celebrated when they thought Notre Dame had won in 2005. When the PA announcer announced that 1 more second should be on the clock, the celebrating USC fans felt exactly like the Notre Dame fans in 2005 with a feeling of panic and disbelief.

Many fans immediately thought about 2005 when more time allowed the famous “Bush Push”. Would this be the same situation in reverse? Fortunately for the Trojans, the usually clutch Clausen threw his 4th straight incompletion inside the 10 yard line and the Trojans hung on to win 34-27.

After performing a pretty disciplined and dominating 3 quarters, the Trojans almost let it slip away in the 4th quarter. Fortunately the phenomenal effort of true Freshman Matt Barkley, who threw for 380 yards and 2 Touchdowns in leading the Trojans to a 34-14 lead was preserved despite untimely unsportsmanlike penalties and mental mistakes that helped Notre Dame score two consecutive touchdowns in the 4th quarter.

Thoughts on Barkley, Bates and McCoy after the jump…

Matt Barkley = Wow!: Before Fall practice started, I wrote that Pete Carroll would give every opportunity to Matt Barkley to win the starting job not only due to his talent but that it would guarantee he would be at the helm of the offense for 3 full seasons. Carroll and the offensive coaches did not want to have a repeat of the Sanchez situation (one year starting and bolting for the NFL) and they could get two exemplary seasons from him once he learned the ropes. Well, they are getting much more than that. How about 3!

Barkley has played at Ohio State, at Cal and at Notre Dame (all in the top 25 at the time SC played them) and is 3-0. He led them on a game-winning drive against Ohio State in front of 110,000 people and threw for 380 yards at South Bend. His stats for the Cal-Notre Dame games are 39-64, 663 yards, 2 td’s/2 int. Against Notre Dame, he made NFL quality throws by releasing the ball before receivers made cuts and properly targeted his throws in between defensive zones.

I can’t recall a true freshman quarterback ever playing this well early on in his career. Barkley is playing with a loaded deck and the defenses of Cal and Notre Dame are not top tier defenses but they are talented and the progress Barkley is making is special. What is going to happen when he actually understands all of his reads? No wonder USC has commitments from 2 of the top 3 rated Wide Receivers’ in the 2010 recruiting class.

Jeremy Bates has arrived: It took him a little while to get used to the college game and he was bringing along a true freshman at the QB position, but it looks like Jeremy Bates is ready to take advantage of all the athletic toys he has at his fingertips. His once predictable and conservative play calling has given way to an open playbook and defensive coordinators wondering what the heck he is going to do next. The Trojans are spreading the ball around and getting a myriad of players involved in different spots all over the field. He made two great pass play calls on short yardage situations in which the Trojans have not thrown it all year and they went for big gains.

Though he has been criticized with some of his play-calling in the 4th quarter, it should be noted that Ronald Johnson was open on the tip ball that was intercepted and frankly the game should not have been that close.

Those worried about red zone efficiency need to be a little more patient. They will continue to improve as Barkley matures. Success in the red zone is last thing to come with a young offense.

The evolution of Anthony McCoy: McCoy has evolved into one of the best tight ends in the country and has turned himself into a solid potential NFL draft choice. He has combined his superior athleticism and size with a strong set of hands that creates serious problems for defenses. USC is at its best offensively when the tight end position has at least 5 catches a game and they had 8 on Saturday led by McCoy’s 5 for 150 yard effort. Great tight end play is a big key when you have a young Quarterback.

USC wins going away if: USC does not have 4 unsportsmanlike calls/late hits against them in the final 22 minutes. One example: The penalty against Everson Griffen mid-way through the 3rd quarter with USC up 20-7 after sacking Jimmy Clausen on the 1st play of a drive that ND scored on was a 23 yard swing and a huge momentum shift for the ND offense. The drive allowed Clausen to get into a rhythm. Without that drive Notre Dame’s offense probably doesn’t get going.

USC Wins going away Part II: After a great week of special teams play against Cal, special teams once again was a negative factor for the Trojans with the exception of the huge blocked extra point that gave USC a 14 pt. lead instead of just a 13 pt. lead. The Trojans gave up a fake field goal play leading to ND’s only score of the 1st half; fumbled a kick-off return on an exchange between Gable and McKnight which was called at a very interesting time; two punts were almost blocked and the snapper one-hopped the punter on one occasion.

With the Trojan offense rolling the theme for this team is simple: Play discipline football in all phases and you will not lose.


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