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USC Football: How Trojans Should Have Adjusted With Khaled Holmes Out

Annette Irwin |
September 16, 2012 | 12:27 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Time in the pocket was a rare commodity for Matt Barkley against the Stanford Cardinal. (Jerry Ting/Neon Tommy)
Time in the pocket was a rare commodity for Matt Barkley against the Stanford Cardinal. (Jerry Ting/Neon Tommy)
USC’s tough loss to Stanford proves how undervalued a veteran impact lineman can be especially when facing a physical opponent.

Football fans remember last year when Indianapolis Colts fans shouted “Peyton Manning for MVP!” even with the veteran quarterback out with a neck injury. Well after the No. 2 Trojans fell to No. 21 Stanford 21-14, Trojans fans chanted “Khaled Holmes for MVP” while he was standing on the sidelines after suffering a right ankle injury from last week’s win over Syracuse.

Wait. How can that be? A player, who hopelessly and anxiously stands on the sideline as he watches his quarterback being taken down for what seems like most of the second half, is the MVP?  Oddly enough, yes because Holmes would have changed the complexion of the game. He was the lineman the Trojans sorely missed.

To describe this loss, simply put: offensive line troubles. USC lost the battle in the trenches.

This was not the game to be missing senior center Holmes. Redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi jumped in and started at center for the Trojans in place of veteran Holmes. The first start against a tough, physical and experienced defensive line like Stanford proved to be too much for Hobbi and the rest of the line. 

The line allowed Stanford’s defense to pound through and sack Barkley five times. In 2011, the Trojans offensive line only allowed eight sacks all season. The offensive line was not supposed to be the problem this season with four returning starters this year including Khaled Holmes. 

When Holmes starts, he calls the blocking schemes while Barkley reads the defenses. This gives Barkley a better vision of the field. With Holmes out with an injury against Stanford, Barkley’s job was not only to read the defense but to also call the line’s blocking plays.

The preseason Heisman favorite did not have his best night. Barkley looked uncomfortable; his throws were off target at times; threw two consecutive interceptions before the end of the first half; zero touchdowns; and he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Barkley ended the night 20 of 41 passes for 254 yards and was sacked four times.

A casual football fan could point out a major problem to Barkley’s off night: no protection. 

For most of the game, Barkley seemed rushed, uncomfortable and rattled.  He never looked poised.

The problems stemmed from Hobbi’s inability to stop Stanford’s rush. His inexperienced showed last night with poor exchanges with Barkley under center and tangled feet as Barkley dropped back. One of the mix-ups between Barkley and Hobbi, however, resulted in a touchdown rush by Silas Redd, for his second of the game to put USC up 14-7.

Barkley and his offense never got into any rhythm.  This was simply due to the Cardinal’s front seven manhandling the entire Trojans O-line. USC’s high-powered offense only managed 14 points, all coming in the first half. Stanford outgained the Trojans, 417-280 in total yards.

On top of the pass blocking troubles, the line had difficulties opening holes for the running backs. Stanford’s defense held USC to a season-low 26 yards rushing.

Stanford possesses a top linebacking core and D-line that constantly put pressure on Barkley and his inexperienced line. USC’s last drive of the game was evidence of a poor offensive line that missed its starting center. Barkley was sacked two times on that drive, alone. Besides a leaping catch by Marqise Lee on fourth down and Barkley’s last completion to Agholor, he never looked comfortable. He was constantly under duress.

Head Coach Lane Kiffin did not make any adjustments to the struggling line. With Hobbi’s ineffectiveness in protecting Barkley, Kiffin should have started the senior quarterback from the shotgun position rather than under the center. Although, starting from shotgun, the defense knows a pass is coming. In this particular game against Stanford, Barkley had more time to throw from shotgun and completed most of his passes from this position.

Starting five or seven yards from scrimmage, Barkley would have better vision of the field resulting in a quicker release.

Hobbi does not have to worry about the center – quarterback exchange with the shotgun.  Instead, he flips the ball back to Barkley and immediately puts his hands up. This is quicker for him to get into blocking position. 

The one shotgun call resulted in a completion to Nelson Angholor close to the 50-yard line. Other than that, it was Barkley starting under center and being sacked two times by the sheer power of Stanford’s interior linemen.

The offensive line struggles were not the only reason for the USC defeat, but the absence of senior center Khaled Holmes proved to be costly facing the Stanford Cardinal’s dominant front seven.

USC’s offensive line looks to improve its blocking as they face the California Bears next Saturday in Los Angeles.


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