Monday, September 19, 2011
Four starters in four weeks at LG?
By Pedro Moura
In college football, it's not normal to have three starters at one position in three consecutive weeks.
But that's what the Trojans accomplished Saturday against Syracuse when they started true freshman Marcus Martin at left guard in his collegiate debut, making him the third player to try his hand at the spot in as many games this season. Juco transfer Jeremy Galten started Week 1 against Minnesota and was unseated the next week in practice; fifth-year senior Martin Coleman started Week 2 against Utah but got hurt early on and may not come back anytime soon.
And this might not be it. There might be a fourth.
Abe Markowitz, a redshirt junior, very well may get the nod at left guard this week after he was limited the first three weeks of the season by a foot injury. Before he got hurt, he was the No. 1 guy at the position. None of the other three have stood out so far, so it'd make sense for Markowitz to get his chance against Arizona State.
The problem with all of this: Where's the continuity?
An offensive line, more than any other unit on a football field, needs that continuity, that flow, that progression. And the Trojans haven't had it and may not have it for the foreseeable future, which, really, has stalled their progress as a five-man front and prevented them from jelling as a line.
The good news is there are only so many more changes Lane Kiffin and the Trojans can possibly make at that one position. Markowitz is the only other new player who could legitimately start there -- although Aundrey Walker could theoretically switch over from right guard in some kind of emergency or drastic situation.
Basically, after Markowitz gets his chance -- or before, if he doesn't get one -- someone's going to start their second game at the position. And the real progress, both from the specific player and the offensive line as a whole, should begin there.
That's this team's biggest weakness right now. The passing game is comfortably above-average and at times superb, depending on the play of the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers and the line; the running game is about average but with elite streaks. The defense has been consistently great defending the run and average with similar elite streaks defending the pass.
If the O-line can get it together, the passing game likely moves to regularly elite levels and the run game becomes a dependable option. In other words, if the O-line can get it together, this team could actually be pretty good.
Kiffin seemed to think after he had seen the film of Saturday's game against Syracuse that the line had played its best game yet, but the numbers don't overwhelmingly support that notion. Sure, there was more time in the pocket for Barkley to pass, but the Orange pass rush was probably the worst of the three teams the Trojans have played this year. The running backs had a total of 37 yards on the ground on 14 carries entering the fourth quarter.
That number should have been triple that against the Orange, if not more. But with no continuity on the line and a constant reshuffling of the starters, it's hard to reasonably expect much more.