Here’s the fourth post in our new ‘film study’ series started last 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've already done USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota, 23-14 win over Utah and 38-17 win over Syracuse. Here, now, are our five notes — four big things and a bunch of little ones — from USC’s 43-22 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 24, 2011.
Barkley and USC's red zone turnovers
USC's offense was effective against a good Arizona State defense -- very effective, in fact. The Trojans just kept hurting themselves with ill-advised turnovers near the end of their drives, and the Sun Devils kept capitalizing.
After the game, coach Lane Kiffin deflected a lot of the blame away from quarterback Matt Barkley from the two picks he threw that led directly to ASU touchdowns. But a re-watching of the tape shows at least one of them was a clear mistake by Barkley.
With the Trojans on the ASU 12-yard line after a big punt return by Nickell Robey midway through the second quarter, Barkley looked to throw a short pass to Robert Woods just to the right of the original line of scrimmage. And so he tossed it over while failing to realize that Vontaze Burfict was in an underneath zone and only had to take two quick steps to his left to pick out the ball easily.
Then, in the fourth quarter, USC right tackle Kevin Graf messed up big-time in blocking for Barkley. When his man beat him rushing around the edge, Graf held him, drawing a flag, but didn't hold him well enough, so the Sun Devil still got to Barkley and pressured his throw, which was picked off by Shelly Lyons and returned for a touchdown.
You can make a good case that the second one wasn't Barkley's fault, especially considering the Trojans were already down by two TDs at the point. But the first one was. And that's not to say anything about USC's quarterback's other turnover, when he fumbled in the red zone on third down and wasted a nice chance at a field goal.
Marc Tyler also lost a fumble when he was running really well and looking poised to the score late in the third quarter.
There were some bizarre decisions from Kiffin in this game, including his management of the run game and his decision to call two third-and-long run plays in the first quarter.
That's not to say a run can't be effective on third-and-12 at certain times, but when you're down early on the road and in need of a score, it's not going to be the most popular decision. On two straight drives early, Kiffin went with run calls to Tyler and Amir Carlisle and failed to gain more than a yard on either.
Later on, Kiffin showed confidence in his passing game and called for some risky third-and-long passes from Barkley to Woods, and they showed a nice rate of effectiveness.
A hole at middle linebacker
Chris Galippo played every single defensive snap of this game, and it's hard to figure out why, because he didn't play very well.
Galippo made one good play all game, as far as we can tell, when he tipped a Brock Osweiler pass in the second half. Other than that, he was pretty consistently chasing after ASU's ballcarriers each time he came into frame on the television broadcast.
This was a serious issue, especially when you start to notice the Sun Devils cutting back toward the middle of the field every time they get in space. Galippo's area was a weak spot all game for the Trojans.
Lamar Dawson was hurt at this time and did not suit up for that reason, but USC had other options, including Will Andrew. It was a bad idea.
This game also started another season-long trend: T.J. McDonald's personal-foul penalties. He was whistled for three of them, including two on the same player, Jamal Miles.
The first one appeared to be a clear penalty on McDonald, when he led straight with his helmet and stood over Miles menacingly for five seconds after the play. The second one should not have been a penalty, when McDonald helped out Jawanza Starling with the tackle of Gerell Robinson and went low but didn't endanger Robinson in any way. And the third one was somewhere in between.
Going forward, it appears McDonald could do a lot to help his cause if he didn't stand over receivers after every big hit he doles out.
One other thing of note on the first penalty: If Galippo had done his job and tackled Miles a second or two before McDonald got to him, there wouldn't have been any fuss about it.
Final notes: Andre Heidari missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt but got another chance from a closer distance when Burfict was called for an offsides penalty and converted. ... We saw some wildcat offense in the third quarter from Tyler and USC. It netted only three yards, but it led to ASU confusion and a touchdown on the next play. ... Graf had a bad game, but not as bad as expected based on his comments after the fact and Kiffin's decision to open up his starting spot to competition during the next week of practice. ... Tight end Xavier Grimble was called for a false start in this game and was whistled a lot in the Trojans' first four contests.
Next comes Arizona.