2012 USC offensive review

Marqise Lee was an unstoppable force for the Trojans as the Biletnikoff Award-winning sophomore set Pac-12 record for receptions and receiving yards. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the season, it's safe to say that expectations were sky-high for a USC offense bolstered by the return of a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Matt Barkley, not to mention off-the-charts talent at every skill position. And while the unit certainly looked the part for much of the season, racking up an impressive 432.9 yards and 32.1 points per game, it wasn't quite the machine that most had predicted. Struggling at times with mental mistakes, turnovers and third-down efficiency as well as red-zone execution, the Trojans offense never quite lived up to the hype.


When Barkley made the announcement back in December of 2011 that he would return for his senior season at USC -- spurning an early opportunity at NFL riches -- it was thought to be the ultimate coup for USC coach Lane Kiffin and Co. A veteran leader coming off a lights-out junior campaign, he appeared to be the final key to the Trojans' BCS title hopes.

Barkley certainly had more than his fair share of standout moments, averaging 297.5 yards passing per game with 36 touchdowns. But he also threw 15 interceptions -- eight more than he did a year ago -- while completing 63.6 percent of his pass attempts -- down from his 2011 completion percentage of 69.1.

To make matters worse, Barkley suffered a sprained AC joint in his shoulder against UCLA, forcing him to miss the team's final two games. For a truly great Trojan -- both on the field and off -- it was anything but a fitting way to close out his USC career.

With Barkley sidelined, redshirt freshman Max Wittek -- who like Barkley, prepped at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei -- received the chance that he'd been waiting for. A natural leader with a big-time arm, he showed promise in the team's loss to Notre Dame but struggled mightily against Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, throwing three interceptions while completing just 14 of 37 pass attempts for 107 yards.

Running Back

Less than a month from the start of fall camp the Trojans were paper-thin at tailback, with only Curtis McNeal, D.J. Morgan and Buck Allen around to shoulder the load. But then USC caught a break when Silas Redd opted to transfer from Penn State after NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Ultimately leading the offense with 905 yards rushing, Redd's addition was welcomed and as a whole, the team averaged a more-than-respectable five yards per carry. There were instances against teams such as Stanford and Notre Dame when the USC rushing attack stalled, however, and the 150.6 yards per game that the offense rushed for was down from the 162.6 that they averaged a season ago.

McNeal, whose carries were reduced with the addition of Redd, picked up his production as the season progressed, putting up big numbers in a victory against Arizona State and in the UCLA loss before finishing with 701 yards.

Morgan was used here and there, looking perhaps the best that he has as a Trojan. Allen rarely saw the field.

Soma Vainuku manned the fullback position for the vast majority of 2012. Tough and physical, he provided a sturdy presence as a lead blocker, but there weren't a whole lot of fireworks generated out of this position offensively. Freshman Jahleel Pinner also saw time at fullback, especially toward the end of the season.

Wide Receiver

Marqise Lee and Robert Woods were the highlight of the Trojans offense in 2012, firmly establishing themselves as the top receiving tandem in college football.

Lee, the focal point of Kiffin's game plan, was flat-out unstoppable. A unanimous 2012 All-American and USC's first ever Biletnikoff Award winner, he hauled in 118 receptions for 1,721 yards -- both team and Pac-12 single-season records. His rare combination of speed, power and athleticism was on display against Arizona on Oct. 27 when he pulled down 16 passes for 345 yards -- another conference record -- and scored two touchdowns.

With Lee garnering the majority of touches, Woods' numbers understandably went down from the 111 receptions that he made in 2011 to 76 in 2012. But that was less due to anything that he did wrong as opposed to what Lee did right. When given the opportunity, Woods was just as stellar as ever, and he leaves USC as the program's all-time leader in career receptions.

Nelson Agholor -- a freshman speedster out of Tampa, Fla. -- stepped into the role as the No. 3 receiver and showed off some nice playmaking skills that are sure to be utilized next season. His season was highlighted by a six-catch, 162-yard, one-touchdown game against Oregon.

De'Von Flournoy, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer each finished the season with one reception.

Tight End

If there was one major drawback to the output manufactured by the USC wideouts, it was that it resulted in fewer opportunities for tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Both impressive athletes with more-than-capable pass-catching skills in their own right, Grimble reeled in a modest 29 receptions for 316 yards and five touchdowns, and Telfer finished with 12 grabs for 100 yards and four touchdowns.

Freshman Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick also gained valuable playing experience, looking effective primarily as a blocker, as did Junior Pomee.

And with a rash of injuries, freshman offensive lineman Max Tuerk even saw time at tight end against Washington.

Offensive Line

It was an up-and-down season for James Cregg's unit, as they actually led the Pac-12 in allowing just 17 sacks on the season, but they also had major lapses when they committed costly penalties and were just plain outmuscled at the line of scrimmage.

Center Khaled Holmes, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, was easily this group's most valuable contributor. That became all too apparent when he got hurt against Syracuse and missed the Stanford game. With inexperienced redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi in Holmes' place, the Trojans were thoroughly dominated by the Stanford front seven in USC's 21-14 loss to the Cardinal.

Marcus Martin started for the majority of the season at left guard before being moved to center during bowl-game practices, and that might be the position that he's destined to play in 2013.

Tuerk and Aundrey Walker battled it out at left tackle throughout much of the schedule, with Tuerk ultimately making four starts at the position -- the first true freshman to ever achieve that honor. Ultimately moving over to guard against Georgia Tech, the talented youngster earned freshman All-American honors and could be a star down the line.

On the right side, tackle Kevin Graf and guard John Martinez each started for the second consecutive season next to one another, performing solidly for the most part.

Abe Markowitz, Nathan Guertler and Jeremy Galten were others who lined up along the offensive line.