“With the Trojans at the bye week, give your three biggest story lines from what we've seen so far this year.”
1. Status of USC passing game: Coming into the season, it was expected that the combination of quarterback Matt Barkley throwing to receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee would basically be unstoppable. While the passing attack has been extremely good at times, it simply isn’t at the level that was projected for this group. Odds are they will get on track at some point because all three of them really are that good.
2. Injury impact: It was known that the margin of error was going to be slim for the Trojans when it came to injuries. It showed on defense with starters such as Wes Horton, Lamar Dawson and Torin Harris. All three of them missed the opener, but they have slowly returned and the defensive has improved. On offense, there’s no question the biggest injury impact of the year was felt when Khaled Holmes and Andre Heidari missed the Stanford game.
3. Morgan Breslin: The inexperienced defensive line was a concern -- especially when Horton was forced out of early action -- but the group has been a pleasant surprise. At the forefront has been Breslin, a junior college transfer who has shown an impressive motor and playmaking ability, which was sorely needed by the Trojans.
1. The disappointing and sometimes confusing consistency of the Trojans offense, given the fact so many players returned from last season’s standout unit. Barkley has hardly looked like a Heisman candidate up to this point, the offensive line struggled right out of the box, and the play-calling has appeared “baffling” at times in both time management and short-yardage situations.
2. The positive, steady development of the defense and the surprisingly good showing of the defensive line. You have to hand it to the Trojans' defensive coaches and players for rising to the occasion. Each week you see progress, and I expect the “weak” cornerback position opposite Nickell Robey will improve, as well. There appears to be visual halftime adjustments, as well.
3. It would have to be the opponents’ defensive schemes being thrown at the Trojans offense to take away Woods and Lee. Obviously the opposing defensive coordinators have been able to be successful, especially Stanford. It figures the Trojans will continue to see versions of the Stanford schemes the rest of the way until there are adjustments. One way to battle the Stanford approach is to have a physical running attack, and the Trojans seem to be looking at that option.
1. Defensive line play: One of the biggest question marks heading into the season, the Trojans’ defensive line, has turned into the surprise of the fall, emerging as the team’s most productive unit. Against California last week, Ed Orgeron’s group could have been mistaken for one of the collections that he coached in his first stint at USC, as it racked up nine sacks. What makes this such a special story is the fact that there are so many first-year players who are contributing to the standout play, most notably team-sack leader Breslin.
2. Offensive inconsistency: This was supposed to be the heart of this team -- a high-flying offense led by superstar talent at every skill position. But here we are four games into the season, and -- save for the Hawaii game-- the offense has yet to truly take off. Opposing defenses have adjusted their game-plans, double-teaming those star wide outs to keep Barkley’s options limited. And with the offensive line racked by injury, the running game has underwhelmed at times, but did show promise against California.
3. Barkley under the microscope: While Barkley has done a nice job considering what he’s been dealt with in terms of a beat-up offensive line and opposing defenses scheming to take his receivers out of the game, it’s safe to say that he hasn’t lived up to expectations. What will be interesting to see is how he responds. A natural leader, he’s certainly shown the resolve and fortitude in the past to be able to bounce back and turn his season around in a hurry.