First, it's gratifying to know that SC still controls their Bowl fate. With Oregon, Domers, and possibly Oregon/Oregon State in a conference championship game ahead (ASU might be ranked to), the bowl resume will be rich. College Football normally has a way of working out (in spite of no playoff). Sitting at #10 in the BCS, having the opportunity to beat the 3 teams mentioned earlier, having an LSU/Alabama loser on 11/3, a South Carolina/Florida loser on 10/20, Kansas State at West Virginia on 10/20, and Choklahoma (well, they will lose again at West Virginia and/or Domers at home)...our BCS spot is in our hands despite the Stanford debacle. Combine that with 4 of the next 6 at the Coliseum (how many other Top 25 teams have played 4 road games???), the normal metamorphisis of USC peaking towards the end of the season like an NFL team, and the seniors having fun again after Colorado...I like our chances. If you are going to lose a game, it's certainly better to do so early in the season. Also, in regards to the 4 road games...home field is normally worth a touchdown...how many here think we lose to Stanford in the Coliseum? Nunes cannot throw the ball in the ocean off the end of the pier on the road.
Secondly, these penalties have got to stop! Lining up wrong and offsides are putting this offense in 3rd and long consistently. Everyone makes mistakes, but the consistency of these penalties after 6 games is alarming. On average, penalties are taking 10-14 points off the scoreboard each game. These are selfish mental mistakes. USC is dead LAST in the nation in penalties averaging 10 per game! Kansas State averages 3 per game. Stop talking about fixing these and fix'em...period! Like anything in life...the proof is in the behavior, not in the words.
Raise your hand if at mid-season you thought we would be 57th in the nation in total offense, and 25th in total defense. To be frank, our D has outplayed our O. SC defense is 5th in the nation in sacks, and 16th in tackles for loss. We are ranked 26th in the nation in turnover margin which should only improve in the 2nd half. The largest perceived weakness, the D-Line, has been by the far the biggest strength...who knew!
-Morgan Breslin has been a revelation on the D-line currently ranked 7th in the nation in sacks with 8. If every teammate played with the orientations Breslin does, we would be #1 in the BCS right now! His motor never stops for gas. Leonard Williams is not far behind ranking 26th in the nation in sacks. The big fella from FLA just keeps coming and improving. He is a certain high first round pick on his current career path. Great to finally have Wes Horton back and healthy. Even though Horton has missed a lot of time, he still is 62nd in the nation in sacks. I really hope Kennard decides to redshirt this year and come back to team with Breslin next year after Horton graduates. Uko and Woods have had their moments as well...just need more consistency. Help is on the way with Bigelow, Vanderdoes, Hatcher, Prevot, and Fitts.
-If D-line has been the top performing unit, LB's are not far behind. Dion Bailey might be the best player on D right now. He is everywhere reminding me of a faster version of Grootegoed. Dawson is really picking up his play now that he is healthy, as is Pullard. Pullard was playing so well at the end of last season. Would be great to see him at those levels consistently.
-T.J. McDonald's decision to stay was a good one for him. He is a much more complete/mature player in 2012. If Bailey is playing like Groots, then McDonald is rapidly approaching Polamalu level while at SC. Really wish Lane would put Josh Shaw in at the CB opposite Robey. I envision this scenario as when Carroll put in Wiley last year, or Marcell Allmond back in 2002 to solidify that CB spot. Both times the D took off after those moves. As a side, how about putting someone a little less valuable at punt returner. Robey muffed 2 against UW, but regardless, how about Flournoy, Farmer, Morgan...heck even another DB (McCalister?) taking that job. Their ball security cannot be much better/worse, and returning punts is probably the highest injury risk of anything on the football field. What would we do -if- we lost Robey???
-Even though the O-Line is 53rd in the nation in sacks allowed...it feels much lower than that. Was Matt Kalil that valuable to the O-line's surprising performance last season? Understanding that Holmes has not been entirely healthy since Syracuse, but the tackle play in Seattle on Saturday was mediocre at best. We were chunking them with the ground game, but to only attempt 20 passes with the skill players we have...one has to drill down on the line play if there are no injuries to acknowledge. This unit HAS to play better if we want to go where we want to go this season. It feels like the line play has regressed, and I am not just talking about Stanford. Perhaps it's time to open up the line play competition at more spot than just Walkers at LT? It would be tough to make significant changes with this group in mid-season, but maybe the competition would light a fire under these guys...they need it!
-IMHO, the TE's are the best unit as a whole on this team. Would love to see us utilize the TE's more in the passing game like Stanford does....especially when Telfer is back 100%. I actually saw a pass play with Pomee in the game on Saturday. Pomee can play...he is the only TE covering kicks! Realize that Cope-Fitzpatrick is redshirting, but he might be the best of them all. Really hope Christian Thomas gets healthy and is able to contribute according to this talents sooner rather than later.
-If the O-line is having mental lapses, then Marqise Lee, who I think is the best player on this team, must be catching some of their mojo. Lee is giving me flashbacks of RJ Soward at times this year making a great catch, then dropping two easy ones. Lee is better than that. Nice to see Woods picking up his game as the season goes as well. I realize there are only so many balls to go around, but Agholer sure looked good at Stanford! Wonder what he could do with 3-5 balls thrown his way each game. And Farmer...there has got to be a way to get the ball in his hands each game. When he was playing RB up at Cal last year, he hit the hole and was gone so fast on a couple of carries that made me jump out of my seat. He was 8-9 yards deep before the Cal D-line and LB's had a chance to see what was happening. Really happy for Flournoy too! Even though he is not playing a lot, and when he does play, he is brought in to block (Whitney Lewis anyone?)...behind Breslin, one could make the arguement he has improved the most of any player since the end of last season.
-Which brings me to my favorite transfer. Redd has been everything and more that we could have hoped for! His balance was surprising, but I did not think he had as much speed as he has flashed. Is there a better teammate than Curtis McNeal? Shows the man, who is taking his playing time, around/about USC...and this is after Moody's playing time was so free to vary with the things he has been through to be qualified to even play! Love Curtis McNeal...he is a man's man!
-Finally, what to say about Barkley? I feel for Matt...these first 6 games cannot be what he envisioned when he decided to be our biggest recruit for 2012. Matt is 30th in passing efficiency and 58th in total offense in the nation. Not sure if there could have been a better representative to take USC through sanctions. We can see his frustrations...he is not smiling and seemingly enjoying playing nearly as much as the past. His anger at Lee not lining up correctly in the 2nd half of Saturday ws palpable. Fortunately, these are fixable issues. I expect Matt to have a huge 2nd half and get his BCS Bowl Game he so humbly stayed on for.
I expect SC to have a huge game coming up versus Colorado to get us rolling in the 2nd half. Things have just felt a bit off the first 6 games...even something as automatic as Heidari's fundamentals (granted he has been hurt). It's like we are off our center. Fortunately, we know the potential of this team, and it isn't as if 5-1 is horrible by any means. Going into the 2nd half, we have the best coaching staff in the nation...and they are going to need to step up as well. Any population of people are ultimately only as good as their leadership in what they achieve. We have the leaders. It's time to grab the bull by the horns and play smart, joyful, and hustling football. Doing that will take care of everything else.