Here's the second post in our new 'film study' series started earlier this week.
Every other day from now until Aug. 23, we’ll be putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes from each game, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, on Aug. 25, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year's opener.
We did USC's 19-17 win over Minnesota on Wednesday. Here, now, are our five notes — four big things and a bunch of little ones — from USC’s 23-14 win over Utah on Sept. 10, 2011.
This was either Matt Barkley's second- or third-worst performance of the 2011 season. We'll be able to more accurately place it after a re-watching of the October win over Cal, but he just doesn't look sharp in this contest.
Notable mistakes included a clear overthrow of Robert Woods on a screen play in the first quarter and two miscommunications with Rhett Ellison -- the latter of which resulted in an interception. At first, it looked as if it were an Ellison mistake, but the two players' reactions seem to indicate otherwise. And, after the first one, you can clearly see coach Lane Kiffin's mouth, "Come on, Matt" from the sideline on the TV broadcast.
A displeased Barkley told the sideline reporter after the game that the Trojans had "a lot of work to do on offense, that's for sure."
That seems like so long ago, doesn't it?
The running backs
This was a really interesting game to observe the USC running game. It featured Marc Tyler's return from a one-game suspension for comments made to TMZ, so Kiffin deliberately chose not to start Tyler in favor of D.J. Morgan.
But he brought in Tyler on the first series and kept going to him again and again as he grinded out four and five yards a carry. When Morgan fumbled in the second quarter, it essentially ended his 2012 season. The redshirt freshman averaged two rushes per game the rest of the year.
A re-watching of the fumble is telling, though. It wasn't like Morgan got stripped on a good play by a Utah 'backer -- he flat-out just dropped the ball when USC was in the red zone and on the verge of breaking the game open.
Dillon Baxter still got only one opportunity to carry the ball after requesting a meeting with Kiffin in the week leading up to the game.
It was just so bizarre.
With 20 seconds to go, the game officials incorrectly spotted a fourth-down reception by Utah's DeVonte Christopher and gave the ball back to USC to end the game. Just as the Trojans were set to kneel and run the clock out, an official review was called.
Next was a drawn-out process to get the right ruling, select a new spot and measure out the new spot. Eventually, the Utes were given the first down and the clock started. One play later, Utah ran out its kicker and attempted a field goal -- which was blocked easily by Matt Kalil and returned for a touchdown by Torin Harris. Of course, the score was ruled not to count because of an excessive celebration penalty.
Kiffin said after the game he tried to keep his players off the field while the return was in progress, and he was right. The tape shows Kiffin running up and down the sideline with his arms stretched out like a human gate, but he really only stopped a couple players from running on.
Hours after the game, the score was changed to count Harris' touchdown, with officials stating they always intended for it to count. The TV broadcast does not indicate that whatsoever.
An opposing Star
We got our first opponent to worry about in this game, with Utah's Star Lotulelei thoroughly dominating the USC offensive line.
First, it was Martin Coleman who drew the assignment to block Lotulelei in his first collegiate start. Then, after getting mercifully beaten at least four times, he got hurt in the second quarter and never returned. Jeremy Galten came next and had slightly more success.
Most of Tyler's five- and six-yard gains came on sweeps left -- using Kalil -- or on the right side of the line -- using John Martinez and Kevin Graf -- because there was consistent pressure breaking through the left-guard slot.
Will Marcus Martin's approaching insertion into the starting lineup make a significant difference? We'll see shortly.
Final notes: The first signs of Marqise Lee's emergence are easily evident here, but they're mixed in with some pretty bad mistakes as well. Midway through the fourth quarter, he catches a slant from Barkley on third down and turns it into a 32-yard gain -- only to get the play called back because he lined up incorrectly. He also dropped a screen pass earlier but rebounded by holding onto a ball while getting drilled by a safety. ...Middle linebacker Lamar Dawson makes his first appearance of the season here and misses wildly on an open-field tackle on his first series. ...The funniest image so far in two full broadcasts has been ex-linebackers coach Joe Barry's frantic celebration after a big open-field tackle by Dion Bailey on a Utah fake punt attempt. Barry repeatedly jumps as high as he can and practically tackles Bailey when the player gets to the sideline.
The Syracuse game comes next.