Last week I wrote this on the message board, "Remember 2003 when things fell together in the second half of the Arizona State game and then USC started to roll? The ship is about to be righted. The offense has struggled, but I expect a great game Saturday. Things are going to come together. I'm expecting it."
"There's a lot to look forward to with the play of Matt Barkley," Pete Carroll said after the game Saturday. "Matt has done his part, now it's time for the rest of the offense to do their part."
I think they will.
USC did come together on Saturday. The offense did a good job under QB Matt Barkley and can only get better with wide receiver Ronald Johnson coming back to practice this Tuesday. Johnson had a great fall camp and not only will he sparkle as a medium and deep threat, but he is going to make Damian Williams better as well.
USC has only thrown 3 TD passes in 5 games, but look for that to change in the second half of the season. In his first 6 games last year Sanchez had thrown 20 TD passes. Matt Barkley has shown he can be trusted with an open playbook.
The other half of the story is Matt Barkley has only thrown 2 interceptions in 4 games. Matt's greatest strength is his ability to throw long and Johnson was his favorite target in the spring and August.
The offense is coming together, but they are not the story. The story and hope of the 2009 season falls in the lap of the defense. Where the offense has only thrown 3 TD passes. The defense hasn't allowed any.
USC's defensive stats after 5 games are just fantastic. USC is 3rd in scoring defense just back of Florida and Nebraska at 8.60. They are 5th in rushing defense at 64.80, 3rd in pass efficiency defense at 90.01 and 5th in total defense at 238.60.
The Trojans have accomplished this while playing 3 out of their first 5 games on the road. Most of the top teams have been sitting at home for the first third of their season. So USC's defensive performance is just that much more impressive. USC has accomplished this with an abundance of injuries and that makes it even more remarkable.
Defensive end Armond Armstead should return for the Notre Dame game. Armstead is cleared to practice, but he will have to work his way back into shape after a foot injury. Armstead was clearly one of USC's best defensive players in August, playing the run and the pass equally well. So you have future All-American Armstead coming back to a defensive line that is second in the nation in sacks.
Hopefully weak-side linebacker Malcom Smith will be ready as well. Jordan Campbell has a high ankle sprain. Nick Perry's knee bruise will also have a chance to heal. This bye couldn't have come at a better time.
Can USC's defense take them to the BCS Championship game at the Rose Bowl? Sure! USC is sitting at No.7 in the polls right now behind Florida, Texas, Alabama, LSU, Boise State and Virginia Tech. USC should pass Boise St and Virginia Tech on strength of schedule if they win out. Notre Dame could be ranked when USC plays them in two weeks. Oregon is 16th and should move up after they beat UCLA on the road this week.
Stanford is sitting just outside the top 25 and has two tough road games at Oregon State and Arizona along with a home game against Arizona State before they meet USC. So the Stanford game could help USC climb.
Florida, Alabama and LSU are all in the SEC and Texas has games ahead against Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State on consecutive weekends so USC can rise if they can win the remainder of their games.
Can USC win the remainder of their games? Sure they can. Notre Dame will be a tough game on the road. The Irish are #10 in total offense at 470 yards a game. They are #29 in scoring at 32.6, but they are 90th in total defense at 403.00 yards a game. USC will pressure Jimmy Clausen into errors.
The Trojans can stop Notre Dame's offensive attack. I don't think ND can stop USC's improving offense. QB Matt Barkley is only going to get better with each game. And with Ronald Johnson returning look for a big jump in USC's third down productivity. USC is beginning to show good balance on offense.
I charted the entire Cal game yesterday, and it is obvious USC made some strides offensively with penalties. The holding call on Ayles was bogus and the call against Ausberry was a crime. Ausberry made a beautiful pancake block.
Barkley did misfire on some chances in the end zone. The first was on a post to Williams and then Barkley missed David Ausberry who was wide open. Stanley Havili also dropped a beautiful 25-yard pass from Barkley. So there were times that USC continued to stop themselves.
USC is currently 112th in 3rd down conversions. But if they can clean up some penalties and have fewer dropped passes, Barkley is close to getting his third down throws on target. USC continues to struggle on third and fourth downs with assignments and two more weeks on the practice field should help. Cal does have a tremendous defensive line.
USC's defense has prevented its opponent from scoring a TD in 8 out of their last 18 games. Think about that. Cal hasn't scored a TD in its last two games against the Trojans. ND has only scored 3 points in its last two games against the Trojans.
The Trojans gap control was excellent throughout the game on Saturday, and was especially tough in the red zone. Their secondary simply locked down Cal, and the defensive line pressured Cal QB Kevin Riley. The USC linebackers also did a spectacular job in coverage when Cal drove deep.
The Trojans will give some of their younger players some work this week. Then they will gear up for two tough road games against ND and Oregon. I'm looking forward to the last 7 games of the 2009 season.
USC defense should be able to lead the way and the offense which Pete Carroll described as growing is going to get better and better. My comparison of USC in 2003 and USC in 2009 should hold true. If you remember the Trojan defense ended that year with a 9 sack effort against Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
The 2009 defense is better than the one USC had in 2003. And if the offense can even come close to doing what the 2003 USC offense did in its second half of the season USC should have a strong run at the BCS championship game.
Everson Griffen and the defensive line have come up big in '09. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)