Expert Opinion: First Quarter of the Season

USC beat writers Dan Greenspan and Whitney Blaine state their biggest surprise and disappointment through the first quarter of the Trojans' 2011 season.

Through The First Quarter of the Season…

----Biggest Surprise:----

Dan Greenspan, SCPlaybook.com Beat Writer

I knew Robert Woods was really good, but this good and this soon remains a huge surprise.

It was a given coming into this season that Woods would be the lynchpin of the USC skill positions, but not even the most optimistic person would have envisioned his record-setting 33 receptions through the first quarter of the season.

As a sophomore, Woods has reached the point where an eight catch, 80 yard, one touchdown afternoon has become the norm, even while dealing with lingering elbow and ankle issues.

That in turn has opened up the rest of the passing game for first-year starters like wide receiver Marqise Lee and tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Those three have combined for 22 receptions, 304 yards and four of Matt Barkley's nine touchdown passes from the resulting coverage Woods has created.

If an All-American level campaign was to be expected, this level of performance must still be regarded as a stunning but pleasant occurrence.

Whitney Blaine, SCPlaybook.com Beat Writer

I'm going with another Junipero Serra High alum, Da'John "Juicy" Harris.

Knowing his 6-4, 310 size you'd expect a player like Harris to do some good on that defensive line, but nobody could have guessed he'd be this good. Harris has come up with play after play in all three games, and seems like a natural in disrupting an opponent's offensive rhythm.

Harris comes into the conversation as a guy more than capable of standing out on that veteran defensive line that includes fellow tackle Christian Tupou and highly touted end Nick Perry.

After starting every game as a junior, this senior has more experience and more understanding of the college game that it almost looks slow to him at times. Looking at the film his first step is fast, and it allows him to get to the quarterback or watch the progression and read the play before it happens.

When the game gets tight, Harris seems to continue to come up with something.

----Biggest Disappointment:---

Dan Greenspan, SCPlaybook.com Beat Writer

For all the statistical improvements the USC defense has made from last season, it has yet to manifest itself in takeaways. In three games, they have two fumble recoveries and one interception, not nearly enough to return itself to greatness.

One of the main reasons Pete Carroll's Trojans were able to blowout their opponents on a regular basis is the outstanding field position and extra possessions created by their unparalleled turnover margin, resulting in easy extra points.

Monte Kiffin hasn't yet been able to recapture that magic, notably in terms of interceptions. Most coaches believe fumbles are essentially random, but interceptions can be replicated, especially with a strong pass rush.

By allowing the secondary to play so loose, the pressure generated by Nick Perry, DaJohn Harris and the rest of the defensive line goes to waste. With the precise quarterback play of Andrew Luck, Darron Thomas and Nick Foles ahead, Kiffin must find some way to increase takeaways or else the early defensive returns are unlikely to continue.

Whitney Blaine, SCPlaybook.com Beat Writer

I agree with Dan that takeaways are a necessity for this defense to be what it once was, but I think the team's biggest disappointment is its lack of offensive consistency.

Every week it seems to be a mystery who will play in critical situations and/or who will start/play at certain positions, like the left guard or the backup tailback.

A lack of consistency leads to a lack of offensive rhythm and it isn't the defense's job to help the Trojans put points on the board. As Lane Kiffin said after the Syracuse game, he was incredibly pleased that USC's offense finished the game.

Offensive rhythm occurs when players know their role, and aren't confused. Throwing players into unknown situations rarely reaps dividends, even if they are athletic, talented and highly recruited.

These players seem, more often than not, in the dark as to their playing status and each game it's either been predominantly passing or running-based. While the Syracuse game was more even offensively, having a consistent theme and discussing that with players is key for the Trojans' to dominate their opponents.


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