Film study: Colorado

Here’s the ninth post in our “film study” series.

Every other day, almost, we’re watching one of the games USC played last season and putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year’s opener.

We’ve already done USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota, 23-14 win over Utah, 38-17 win over Syracuse, 44-23 loss to Arizona State, 48-41 win over Arizona, 30-9 win over Cal, 31-17 win over Notre Dame and 56-48 triple-overtime loss to Stanford. Here, now, are our five notes — four big things and a bunch of little ones — from USC’s 42-17 win over Colorado on Nov. 4, 2011.

An all-new defense

The numbers in the USC back seven on Colorado's first drive were confusing. There was a No. 13, a No. 27, No. 19 and a No. 55 all lined up on the opening play of the game, and none of them had started a single game in the 2011 season before this one.

Of course, Dion Bailey was out with a concussion, Jawanza Starling was out with an unspecified injury, T.J. McDonald was suspended for the first half and Chris Galippo was benched. So Tre Madden, Marshall Jones, Drew McAllister and Lamar Dawson stepped in, to varying levels of success.

Ranking those four players' performances, Madden would be first, McAllister second, Dawson third and Jones fourth. Madden, in particular, represented a very nominal drop-off from Bailey, the normal strongside linebacker. He didn't make any big impact plays, but he was rarely caught out of position.

McAllister has a reputation as a feast-or-famine defender, but he didn't play to that in this game. Dawson, who had played the most of the four entering into the game, did what he usually did, getting into good position but not necessarily making good plays. Jones' play left a lot to be desired.

It's telling, also, that Galippo played the majority of the second half at middle linebacker. Sure, the outcome was decided by that point, but if the coaching staff was pleased with Dawson's play, they would've kept him on the field to gain experience.

Barkley and going for the record

Regardless of what Lane Kiffin says, it seems as though he was doing everything he could to get Matt Barkley the single-game touchdown record in the fourth quarter.

That meant going as far as going for it with an 18-point lead on fourth-and-3 from Colorado's 36-yard line. Eventually, Kiffin got what he wanted when Barkley hit Amir Carlisle on a short pass that turned into a touchdown.

It's funny to listen to the TV broadcast from this game and remember Barkley's situation at this point in the 2011 season, a few before the Oregon game that convinced a ton of people he was ready for the NFL.

As the well-informed broadcaster Rod Gilmore said just before the end of the game, Barkley was not supposed to come back for the 2012 season. Gilmore and his partner even share a laugh about the unlikely possibility that the Trojans' signal-caller would be a Trojan for more than few months more.

Kickoff return issues

Kiffin is considering having Robert Woods and Marqise Lee as his two kick returners for the upcoming season. Maybe he should watch the tape from this game again before he makes his final decision.

Woods got rocked by Colorado's Derrick Webb on a first-half kick return that netted the Trojans only 12 yards. It's probably the hardest hit he's taken all season, until this point, and it came on a play that didn't help USC at all.

It could make more sense to have a non-starter returning kicks, especially with the opposition now set to line up five yards closer this year due to new NCAA rules.

There was also Woods' second-half-starting kickoff return for a touchdown, which was negated by a holding penalty on Tony Burnett. The two blocked kicks were good, but this was a bad game for the Trojans' kickoff unit.

Lee's reactions

Woods did his now-famous eating gesture dozens of times throughout the 2011 season, but, in terms of interest, there's nothing more eye-catching than Marqise Lee's dramatic demonstrations whenever he drops a pass and his exuberant celebrations when he catches a touchdown.

Against Colorado, Lee dropped a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter and slammed his hands to the ground violently. A few plays later, he got the second score he was hoping for and made sure he ran the ball over to Kiffin on the opposite sideline so he could be called by his own name again.

It's funny watching Lee try to embrace his teammates while running over to Kiffin.

Woods and Lee also posted nearly identical numbers against the Buffs, with nine grabs and two touchdowns each, 130 yards for Woods and 124 for Lee. The margin between the two -- in both potential and production -- inched closer during this game, and many would say it now leans Lee's way entering 2012.

Final notes: Burnett was also beaten badly by Toney Clemons on a slant route that went for a touchdown in the first quarter, and then beaten again by Clemons in the fourth quarter on a simple fade in the end zone. Burnett had a bad, bad game. ...Rhett Ellison got the Trojans' first blocked kick of the game in the second quarter, but Matt Kalil probably would've had it if Ellison didn't get to it first. Randall Telfer blocked another in the fourth. Colorado kicker Will Oliver's attempts were mighty low, making his kicks tailor-made for a blockfest from the USC special-teams unit. ...Running back Curtis McNeal limped off the field in the second quarter but returned at the start of the second half and only missed a couple series. ...Carlisle played well against the Buffaloes. Isn't it interesting to think about what would have happened if his father still worked in San Francisco? It's hard to envision Silas Redd being a Trojan if that were the case.