There were many ups and downs during the 2012 season. Give your responses on the following items (good or bad) that helped shape the season.
Biggest individual plays
1. Marqise Lee's opening play of the year: The 2012 season couldn’t have started off any better for the Trojans. A quick pass from Matt Barkley to Lee, who got a good block and raced 75 yards down the sidelines for a score.
2. Jawanza Starling's forced fumble and recovery against Washington: The Trojans were leading the Huskies 24-14 early in the fourth quarter. Washington had driven to the USC 3-yard line and had all the momentum in the world, but Huskies quarterback Keith Price was hit on a run play by Starling, who forced the fumble and recovered it. The Huskies wouldn’t score again as USC hung on for the win.
3. Barkley misses Robert Woods: You can’t sugarcoat this one as perhaps the biggest turning point of the season. USC was up 28-13 in the middle of the third quarter against Arizona with the ball at its own 12-yard line when Woods got wide open down the left sideline. Barkley didn’t have any real pressure on him at the time he made the throw, he just overthrew him. From that moment on, the Wildcats outscored the Trojans 26-8 to get the upset.
1. Matt Barkley’s third-quarter incomplete pass attempt to Robert Woods against Arizona
With the Trojans up 28-13 against the Wildcats with six minutes left in the third quarter, Barkley’s pass fell just past the outstretched arms of a wide open Woods. If they connect, the Trojans go up 35-13 and likely run away with the game. Instead, Arizona claws back for a victory that sent USC’s season into a tailspin.
2. UCLA’s fourth-quarter 3rd-and-13 conversion
Mounting an impressive comeback, the Trojans scored with just over seven minutes left in the game to cut UCLA's lead to three. With momentum on its side, all USC needed to do was stop UCLA on 3rd-and-13, and Barkley and the offense would have received the ball back with plenty of time. Instead, Brett Hundley hit Joseph Fauria for the first down, and two plays later Johnathan Franklin sealed the Bruins’ victory with a touchdown.
3. Matt Barkley’s 75-yard TD pass to Marqise Lee against Hawaii
At a time when all was still perfect in Troy, Barkley hit Lee with a quick strike on the season’s very first play from scrimmage, and Lee darted off for a touchdown along the sideline -- showing the incredible game-breaking skills that would become a common sight throughout 2012.
I think you could wrap up the top individual plays all in one game when Lee caught 16 passes for 345 and two touchdowns in the difficult 39-36 loss at Arizona. Lee’s 44-yard reception in the second half of the game showed why he would be the eventual Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
1. Reliance on Marqise Lee: This was a double-edged sword for the 2012 Trojans. You can’t fault any coach for wanting to get the ball to a unique talent like Lee, especially when he was able to deliver so often. However, there is still a balance required in this team game and you can make an argument that the Trojans relied too heavily on Lee to the detriment of other parts of the offense.
2. Left tackle: In spring ball, there was expected to be a position battle at left tackle to fill the vital spot left open by Matt Kalil. That battle never materialized, as Aundrey Walker was basically ceded the job early in spring over Kevin Graf. The chemistry never quite meshed within the group and Walker was eventually beaten out by a true freshman by the end of the season.
3. Goal line sequence vs. Notre Dame: There might not be a series of plays that better exemplifies the 2012 season. Faced with a golden opportunity in the biggest game of the year, the Trojans' play-calling, execution and clock management were all in question at the same time. Those who question Lane Kiffin will simply point to this sequence in any offseason debate about the USC coach.
1. The series of eight plays inside the Notre Dame 10-yard-line
Down by nine points late in the game, it was vital that the Trojans score a quick touchdown. Instead, the offense looked confused and ran a curious collection of plays inside the Notre Dame 10. In particular, it was three consecutive run calls up the middle against a stout Fighting Irish defensive front that proved to be especially mystifying.
2. Moving Leonard Williams from defensive end to defensive tackle
Credit the coaching staff on this one. The defensive line play has been one of the strengths of the team, thanks in large part to the play of Williams. Arriving originally as an end, the freshman has provided USC with a physical and athletic presence on the inside at the three-technique.
3. Electing not to attempt a first-quarter field goal against Arizona at the 15-yard line
Rather than attempt what appeared to be an easy field goal on 4th-and-2, Kiffin instead called a pass to Xavier Grimble in the end zone that fell incomplete. The three points would prove to be crucial, as USC lost, 39-36.
First, it was allowing the Trojans to wear those embarrassing Wizard of Oz shoes. Not only was it a distraction by addition, but it was a sign of questionable team unity as some players wore the traditional black shoes. Nike might have liked the idea of the new shoes, but in hindsight it was just a glimpse into the problems to come on this team. Wonder what John McKay would have thought of the shoes?
Second, not moving starting right tackle Graf to left tackle. You knew that at some point in the season having a rookie such as the inconsistent Walker in there at left tackle would be detrimental to the health of quarterback Barkley. What the Trojans should have done well before the season, and probably way back into spring ball, was to move Graf to left tackle and eventually let Max Tuerk play right tackle.
Third, the Trojans' decision to center their offense around Lee and Woods and the dreaded bubble screen, which led to teams adjusting and the Trojans appearing to have no clue what to do next. The running backs were underused and there appeared to be no semblance of a balanced offense which all falls in Kiffin's lap. You could add that the lack of halftime adjustments left a lot to be desired. Another coaching misstep was not playing Hayes Pullard at middle linebacker in place of Lamar Dawson.
Top game performances
1. Barkley against Colorado: It was a day to remember for Barkley. Not only did he complete 19 of 20 passes (the only incompletion came on a dropped ball) for 298 yards and six touchdowns, but he also became the Pac-12 all-time touchdown pass leader and was honored with a fitting video tribute.
2. Lee against Arizona: There’s no way you can leave this game off the list. Lee had 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns to go along with three kickoff returns for 123 yards. His 469 yards of total offense set a USC record and the amazing thing is that it didn’t look as if Lee was playing over his head. In fact, he was upset in the locker room after the game because he didn’t catch the final Hail Mary pass.
3. Khaled Holmes against Utah: When you take into account time and place, this performance deserves mention. Holmes had missed the early season game with Stanford, with his absence contributing greatly in the loss. He came back right away, probably sooner than he should have, and faced a strong counterpart against the Utes in top NFL draft prospect Star Lotulelei, who started with a couple of strong plays. It looked like a long night as the Trojans fell down 14-0, but Holmes settled in and neutralized Lotulelei for much of the remainder of the game, which USC won, 38-28.
1. Marqise Lee vs. Arizona
Lee emerged as perhaps the most exciting big-play talent in all of college football, and this is the game where that became all too apparent. Making 16 receptions for a Pac-12-record 345 yards and two touchdowns, he gives Trojans’ fans something to look forward to in 2013.
2. Matt Barkley vs. Colorado
Barkley was close to perfect in this one, completing 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards and six touchdowns as the Trojans rolled to a 50-6 victory. This game also featured the Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei product’s 100th career touchdown pass.
3. Curtis McNeal vs. Arizona State
Having dealt with a decrease in carries, on top of some minor injuries, throughout the season, McNeal got a shot to shine against the Sun Devils and more than made the most of it, racking up 163 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while also scoring on a 22-yard screen pass.
Obviously, Lee’s performance at Arizona. The Oregon game featured plenty of highlights for Barkley, who passed for 489 yards and five touchdowns. I thought tailback Silas Redd came up big at Washington, running for 108 yards and showing guts and determination.