State of the Trojans

LOS ANGELES -- WeAreSC's panel of experts take the temperature of the Trojans going into their bye week in this week's installation of the Roundtable:

What area of the team should Trojans fans be most pleased about through five games?
Garry Paskwietz: I think this is a pretty obvious choice with the passing game, particularly the play of the wide receivers. It's looking more and more like Robert Woods and Marqise Lee have a chance to be a special duo for the Trojans, and the great thing is that both are underclassmen with a tremendous work ethic. It also helps to have a quarterback who is playing at a high level right now. USC fans hope it continues, as the offensive identity certainly seems to revolve around the pass.

Steve Bisheff: Come on, the area that has pleased the most people has to be the pass offense. Matt Barkley to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee has provided spectacular results and great entertainment. Woods, in particular, is some kind of revelation. I mean, we knew he was good. But no one knew he was THIS good. He is literally a big play waiting to happen. Matching him with Lee, the precocious freshman, has made it even more fun for everyone but opposing defenses. Lee is as productive a freshman as Woods was a year ago, and that's saying something. This is not meant to dismiss Barkley, who is having a fine season, especially at home. What we still need to see, however, is similar success against a good team on the road.

Greg Katz: The area of the team I am most pleased with through five games would be the production of the wide receivers. At least in the early stages, it's hard to argue that Robert Woods and Marqise Lee aren't one of the top young combos in Trojans history. That's a huge statement, but name another twosome of youngsters in cardinal and gold annals that have taken this opportunity and run with it. The remainder of the receiving squad, too, has been a pleasant surprise, and we especially like the coaching attention paid to the downfield blocking, which has been very good.

Kyle Williams: For me, the area that I'm most pleased with is the Trojans special teams. They've been the most consistent area for the Trojans this season. They haven't returned a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown, but they have been giving the offense manageable field position each week. The field goal block team has been the biggest standout, having blocked three field goals and one extra point. Matt Kalil has forced opposing kickers to change the angle and elevation of their kicks, creating a better chance for kicks to come up short.

What area of the team should Trojans fans be most disappointed about?
Paskwietz: After what we saw from the secondary in spring ball and offseason workouts, I expected to see better play translated to the field. So far, that hasn't been the case. The Trojans have faced some solid quarterbacks, but nothing like the signal-callers who await on the schedule, so the coverage and tackling need to improve in a hurry.

Bisheff: Duh! Is there anyone who thinks the defense isn't in need of the biggest improvement? Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron keep promising it will get better, but the results aren't showing up on the field. I think the defensive line, in particular, hasn't come up with the consistent big plays we were expecting. Everyone knew there were holes at linebacker and in the secondary. But the pass rush was supposed to be noticeably improved, and so far it hasn't been.

Katz: The area of the team that needs the most improvement is the defense. The Trojans' defense, while better than last year, is still miles away from being good, especially against the pass. Too harsh? In the past two games, Monte Kiffin's defense has given up more than 40 points, and the biggest Pac-12 challenges have yet to come. Maybe it's talent, coaching, and/or scheme, but something is missing. While the offense has progressed, it's this side of the ball that is preventing the Trojans from being an elite team.

Williams: The area that needs the most improvement is finishing in the fourth quarter. The Trojans have done a good job starting fast this season, scoring 43 points on offense and only giving up 10 on defense in the first quarter. The fourth has been a different story. The offense has scored only 27 points while the defense has given up 43. The Trojans must finish games like they start them if they are to have any success with the remaining teams on their schedule.

What area of the team has been the biggest surprise thus far?
Paskwietz: The biggest surprise for me has been the play of the offensive line. I'm not saying this line is going to make people forget about Anthony Munoz and Brad Budde, but with the genuine concern about the line coming into the season, you have to give credit for the way they have played. Matt Barkley has been sacked only four times, and the run game has seen moments of real production, particularly when Marc Tyler returned to the line-up.

Bisheff: Lee is an obvious choice for biggest surprise, but enough has been written about him. My choice would be Andre Heidari, who quietly arrived and began kicking the football straight and deep as a true freshman. His kickoffs regularly go into the end zone, and his field goals have been as consistent as you could expect from a kid who just showed up.

Katz: The biggest surprise about the first five games to me is the highly disappointing play of the defense. No question about it, the lack of advancement of this defense has been, at times, mortifying. For all the optimism coming out of spring, this defense, thus far, has been vastly underwhelming and remains a huge area of concern, especially with the heavy hitters of the Pac-12 and Notre Dame on the horizon. If championships are won on defense, the Trojans are currently in the unenviable position of having to outscore opponents to win, and you know how that usually turns out.

Williams: The biggest surprise for me has to be Robert Woods. Going into this season I knew Woods was good and was going to be the Trojans' main receiver, but I didn't know he was this good. After five games he already has 747 yards and six touchdowns. But it's not his ability in catching the ball that's impressed me -- it's the fact that he is a complete receiver. He doesn't mind throwing his body out there to make a block for his teammates. The fact that he can lock up corners when he has to block, as well as putting his body on the line for his team by taking on sometimes bigger defenders, is huge. Although receivers aren't held to a high standard for their blocking, the message he sends with his effort is that he's there for his team. Robert Woods is a complete receiver.