1. For the second time in three games, the offense — namely the passing attack — struggled quite a bit. Is there any reason to worry here?
Paragon: Yes, either coach Lane Kiffin is playing too conservative or he has no faith in the offense...namely the O-Line. Matt Barkley hasn't looked sharp but is that because of the hype/pressure? Kiffin's play calling? Or a bad O-line that has, correct me if I am wrong, FOUR returning starters.
Trevor Wong: Yes, it is concerning. In fact, I haven't been too impressed with the passing attack all year long considering who the Trojans have played thus far. Barkley really hasn't seemed to have found any type of rhythm and his receivers have also been responsible for numerous dropped balls.
Will Robinson: Most definitely concerning. For what it's worth, Barkley has the same amount of touchdowns through six games as he did last year. But man, the yardage isn't there. There haven't been any record-breaking games from him or the wideouts like last year when they came in bunches. Kiff's gotta let Barkley go deep more often. Good things happen.
DCTrojan: I'd be more concerned about the offense if the running game hadn't been improving, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about the misfires in the passing game. If, for whatever reason, Kiffin is worried about Barkley getting sacked, then work in some quick passes - whether with better blocking on bubble screens or just getting the ball to Woods and Lee on quick cross-field routes and letting them do their thing. That would also keep the run from getting stuffed too often.
Shotgun Spratling: Any time you aren't able to have offensive balance because one facet of the game isn't clicking, there is concern. What is most worrisome is that Barkley is being forced to rush his throws and decision making when the offensive line has broken down. We took for granted just how big an impact a stud tackle can have on the entire offense. With Matt Kalil completely neutralizing the left side, the entire line's confidence grew. It seems they each had more faith in every man being able to get his job done and didn't have that nagging worry that they were going to have to help someone else out. A confident line gives a quarterback confidence and allows him to focus his attention downfield on reads and routes rather than what is creeping from his blindside every pass attempt.
2. Josh Shaw looked pretty good in his debut at cornerback against Washington. Considering the struggles of that spot opposite Nickell Robey this season, how do you see Kiffin using him here on out and will he eventually supplant Torin Harris as the starter?Paragon: I say make the change NOW. Why wait? I hate to throw players under the bus but Harris is just awful out there. Shaw will have some adjusting to do, but his adjusting looks to be better than Harris at full speed.
Trevor Wong: Giving Josh Shaw a look at cornerback probably should have came a lot earlier in the season. There was really nothing to lose anyway, and clearly, that other cornerback spot has been problematic all season long. With Torin Harris and whoever else the Trojans have put out there not performing all that well, plus with Shaw getting more looks at corner in practice, I don't think it'll be too long before the Florida transfer eventually starts. It'll be an interesting development to watch, though, as USC will face three of the top five passing offenses in the conference still (Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA).
Will Robinson: Kiffin won't make a rash decision at corner. Harris has gotten better and better each week. I mean, the guy missed over a year. But Shaw did look good. Subbing him in and out over the next few game or two will lead to a critical decision, which is, making the choice of who start against Oregon.
DCTrojan: I don't have a strong feeling about this, but Shaw did look more convincing against Washington than Harris has. If nothing else, mix them in to see who can bring more against Colorado, and if Shaw continues to do well, have him take on more plays.
Shotgun Spratling: On the surface, it's kind of baffling it has taken this long for Josh Shaw to receive reps at cornerback. However, it is possible the coaching staff was looking to next year when the defensive secondary will take hits due to graduation and possibly Nickell Robey's early entry into the NFL Draft. If Torin Harris plays up to his potential (and the potential is there believe it or not), Shaw and Demetrius Wright could slide into the spots to be vacated by TJ McDonald and Jawanza Starling. USC would then avoid having to completely rebuild next season.
It's for that reason I think Harris has been given so many opportunities. The coaches will continue to give him work, but with tougher competition coming soon, don't be surprised if Shaw usurps Harris in the critical moments of games — much like in Seattle.
3. USC is the sixth-most penalized team in the nation thus far. How much of this is a concern, or do you think a big part of the reason is because the Trojans have played four of its first six games on the road?
Paragon: Putting aside that it is clear that the Pac-12 refs still target USC, (I know I am wearing my tin foil hat now). I can live with emotional penalties or penalties for hard hitting...football is emotional, it happens. I can even handle some of the holding calls because holding for the most part is a judgment call. But the false starts or offsides penalties really hurt. They have to stop. They are killing drives with stupid penalties. That comes down to discipline, what is Kiffin doing to instill it. Maybe the lack of hitting practice has something to do with this.
Trevor Wong: It's a big concern because great teams are supposed to do the little things right. That means not committing penalties that gives the opponent an extra five yards on offense or pushing your own offense back five yards that kill drives. Has USC played great? Not by any stretch. Instead, it's been very inconsistent and sloppy.
Will Robinson: It looks like a bit of the Raider discipline made its way to this team! It's a giant concern. Sure, the Trojans played on the road. That would account for more penalties than the norm. But sixth in the nation? That's not due to loud crowds. That's poor coaching. Players are undisciplined. It's a bigger issue than 50,000 people screaming.
DCTrojan: I'm less worried about this than others. The false starts and offsides calls are a bit irritating because that's just basics... but we're not seeing the personal fouls that came from prior teams putting kill shots as more important than basic tackling. Needs improvement but if it's not dirty play, I'm not massively concerned.
Shotgun Spratling: Playing on the road doesn't help that number, but the number is definitely disconcerting. The worst part, however, is that the errors are not often physical in nature, but mainly mental miscues.
4. The Trojans' defense has — for the most part — been the backbone of the team's success this year. What has been most impressive about this unit so far this year?
Paragon: The Defensive Line. That unit was thought to be the weak part of the defense with the injuries on the line. How can you not be happy with their play!
Trevor Wong: Like Paragon mentioned, the play of the defensive line has been great. But I'm more impressed with the Trojans' ability to force turnovers this year. Through six games, they've recorded 11 interceptions (tied for fourth in the nation) compared to just nine all of last year and recovered five fumbles. So, that's 16 turnovers through six games, which is 12th best in the nation. The play of the defense has really kept USC in most games and it can probably be argued it has won a couple of them, too. With the way the offense has performed, the defense deserves more credit for its play.
Will Robinson: Undoubtedly, it's the D-line. Silent assassin Morgan Breslin has been one of the best defensive players in the conference, annihilating quarterbacks. He's been the defensive MVP. Without question. Plus, rookie Leonard Williams has been great in his first year.
DCTrojan: Breslin has been such a revelation, it's almost possible to overlook the linebackers and the secondary. They still have room to improve, but they seem to be doing a better job of taking advantage of mistakes and obvious throws by opposing quarterbacks — it's nice to see that again.
Shotgun Spratling: The most impressive aspect of the defensive unit has been its ability to make big plays when the team needs it most. The Trojans have come up with a number of big turnovers, particularly in the second half of games. The inexperienced pass rush has been unexpectedly strong; the Dion Bailey-led linebackers have been tremendous; and other than the No. 2 corner position, the secondary has been solid.
5. Where do you see USC at the end of the season when it's all said and done? Will they be in the BCS title game?
Paragon: Unless I see some dominant wins, I am concerned about making the CCG. I know I am in the minority, but if Lane Kiffin has some grand plan to open the playbook and turn on the jets, I see some other teams giving USC a lot of trouble because of their explosive offense (UO, ASU, UA). I am not yet convinced of ND and UCLA but they are definitely better than they were last season. It is going to be interesting...
Trevor Wong: I'm going to say that USC plays its way back into the national title discussion. Defense wins championships and that unit has the Trojans in every game in spite of how the offense is currently performing.
Will Robinson: As of now, this team is not good enough to make its way to play in Miami. No way. USC needs to get its act together on offense. However, I do feel good about its chances to play in the Rose Bowl. But to take on (presumably) Alabama? Can't buy that right now.
DCTrojan: I don't see this team being in the national championship game, even if they beat Oregon twice and Notre Dame once. As it is, I think the natural ceiling is to get to the conference championship game, and if they did that at 10 - 2 I'd have to say it was a good season. But I think Arizona and ASU are going to give SC fits, and UCLA is such an odd team you can't rule out the possibility that they could wreak havoc at the Rose Bowl (the venue, not the BCS bowl game. Let's be serious...)
Shotgun Spratling: At 9-3 or 10-2 (at best), I think the Trojans will be on the outside looking in as far as the BCS, though there is a chance the Rose Bowl selects USC over a more-deserving team because they just miss our beautiful faces. At the beginning of the season, I thought it would be quite difficult for any team to beat Oregon twice and as of right now, I don't know if I see the Trojans even being able to do it once.
But could it be possible, the coaching staff has been saving stuff for the end of the season? There has been some awfully bland playcalling. Hopefully, its all been a clever rouse and the Trojans will break free of the offensive doldrums for some spectacular second half performances.