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October 12, 2009

Making the grades

The USC football team is five games into the schedule and coming off of its first bye week of the year.

Usually at USCfootball.com, Monday morning is reserved for looking back at the previous Saturday's game.

Since the Trojans spent last Saturday at home, this Monday, we'll look back at the year so far and hand out some grades.

Quarterbacks

Probably the biggest question mark on the team headed into the year has been very constant... when Matt Barkley's been on the field. While Barkley's numbers are good but not eye-popping, he's lead the USC offense to wins in each of his starts.

When Barkley couldn't go, Aaron Corp took over, and Corp struggled. The coaches seem to have more faith in Barkley at this point, and with that faith, Barkley's role should become bigger and more important.

The grade would be higher had Corp performed well at Washington. Simply, he didn't, and partly because of that, the Trojans find themselves with another early season loss.

Grade: B-plus


Running backs

In addition to the solid play USC has gotten from Barkley, Joe McKnight's emergence as a true No. 1 running back has to be one of the big stories on the USC offense so far this year. Allen Bradford's been a nice compliment with his power and speed, and Stanley Havili is one of the most versatile weapons in the conference.

Still, there have been issues.

Pete Carroll stresses hanging onto the football, and this group's struggled with that at times. McKnight is often a fumble waiting to happen, and Havili and Stafon Johnson both lost fumbles is USC's loss at Washington.

C.J. Gable, Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal have been non-factors so far this year.

Grade: B


Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends

When Ronald Johnson went down with a broken collarbone, USC looked for a second receiver to step up and help ease the burden placed on Damian Williams' shoulders. David Ausberry seemed to be the best option, but the inconsistency that's defined his career at USC didn't go away even with Ausberry as USC's No. 2 guy.

Brice Butler has looked good at times, but he's not been given a lot of opportunities. On the other hand, Williams has been very good.

Anthony McCoy has made a number of big plays, but he's also had some problems hanging onto the ball. Rhett Ellison has done a good job blocking, but he's also had some big drops. Blake Ayles hasn't been healthy enough to be a consistent factor.

Grade: C


Offensive line

No unit on the team came into the season with the expectations of the offensive line. Hailed by some as the "best in the country," the offensive line had some struggles during the early part of the year. Holding and false start penalties put the offense in first-and-long situations on a number of different occasions.

Still, the group's done its two primary jobs: open up holes for the backs and protect the quarterback.

Grade: B-plus


Defensive line

After losing a pair of coaches and some veterans up front, this was supposed to be a transitional year for the USC front four. Add in a serious injury to projected starter Armond Armstead, and it'd have been reasonable to worry about this group.

Those worries all vanished quickly. The deep group has lived behind the line of scrimmage. Everson Griffen and Nick Perry have combined for 10 sacks, and Jurrell Casey is blossoming into a bona fide star.

Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin has this young group playing at a very high level.

Grade: A


Linebackers

Like with the defensive line, the graduation of a group of mainstays threw this position into flux before the year. Five games later, no one is worrying.

Chris Galippo has established himself as a leader on the defense, and Michael Morgan's exceptional speed has made him a headache for anyone trying to run away from him. Jordan Campbell, Shane Horton and Malcolm Smith have all started games at weakside linebacker, and all three have been tackling machines.

USC has also gotten production from veteran Luthur Brown and newcomer Jarvis Jones.

Grade: A


Secondary

The veteran USC secondary has been pretty solid, save for the final drive in Washington's upset win over the Trojans. Sure, the coverage looks soft at times, but that's by design.

USC wants to eliminate the big play, and by and large, this group has done that. Plus, safeties Taylor Mays and Will Harris are very tough on the run.

Grade: B-plus


Special Teams

Another area in transition in this season, the USC kicking game has had ups and downs. The Trojans have missed two field goals, both makeable, and botched an extra point. The punting game started very slowly, but it's improved since Jacob Harfman took over the duties.

USC does have a punt return for a touchdown, but both return units have had issues with penalties. The coverage units have been solid but not spectacular.

Grade: C-minus


Coaching

There have been a lot of bright spots in terms of coaching so far this season. The team handled the heart-wrenching injury to Stafon Johnson. The staff picked the right quarterback to start the season. The defense has been coached up and doesn't look like an inexperienced group.

Still, there have been some lowlights.

Everyone around the country saw a potential letdown at Washington, and while the Trojans started well, the team uncharacteristically didn't finish. While the players deserve some of the blame for the loss, so do the coaches. Also, the USC offense has had real struggles on third downs, and part of that blame has to fall on the coaches' doorsteps.

Grade: C


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