Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 Emerald Bowl: Offenses

I've decided to break up my evaluation of the Emerald Bowl into several different posts, because it's not like we've got much else to follow these days. 

We all know what the story with the USC Trojans is: an elite college football program that has fallen on "hard" times (if you consider 8 wins hard, and they probably do) and looked decidedly average towards the end of the year.  The BC Eagles, on the other hand, are a fairly consistent college football program that looked decidedly average all year.  Still, both teams finished up with a record of 8-4, though you could certainly argue that the Trojans' 8-4 was harder-earned.  USC's strength of schedule came in at 26, having to play the likes of Stanford, Oregon, Ohio State, and Cal.  BC's is 50th, but we're not here to talk about all of that.

Offensively, neither one of these teams lit up the world in 2009, but we will start first with USC.  Last year, the Trojans were 11th in the country in yards per game; this year, they're 58th.  In points per game, the Trojans came in 14th in 2008, but 2009 saw them drop to 64th.  One of the main culprits for the offensive downslide is true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, a native Southern Californian who likely spends long periods of time in front of the mirror each day fixing his hair.  Barkley's first year in LA has not been particularly memorable, as he completed 58.4% of his passes, threw 13 touchdowns but also 12 interceptions in 11 games.  His best game all season was his first, a 56-3 shaming of San Jose State.  Since then, as you might expect, he's been a mixed bag but tending a little more towards being good than bad.  He has not thrown more than two touchdown passes in a game all season long, but he has thrown three picks (Stanford). 

Their running game, once a lethal threat with the likes of Reggie Bush in the backfield, has not looked as potent since he left.  The Trojans rushed for 2080 yards (5.1 YPC) and scored 23 touchdowns, which is certainly not bad.  Since being 3rd in rushing yards in 2005, however, USC has dropped to 66th in 2006, 24th in 2007, 20th last year, and 41st this year.  As you can see, the previous two years were good, but there was a slight drop-off in 2009.  Stafon Johnson, last year's leading rusher who was injured in a weight room accident, and 2008 #3 rusher CJ Gable barely contributed this season.  Joe McKnight has been the only constant since last season at tailback, putting up over 1000 yards this year after being the team's second-leading rusher last year.  McKnight and his main alternate Allen Bradford each ran for eight scores a piece.

The point-scoring also took a much-expected hit this year with a freshman running the offense and the fewer contributions from the rushers.  The Trojans averaged 26.7 (64th) this season, whereas last year they managed 37.5 (14th). 

As for the Eagles, I doubt any of us expected great things offensively in 2009 since a freshman would be the quarterback.  What we've gotten this year has been adequate, but the BC offense has definitely taken its lumps.  Who can forget the game of a thousand rain delays in Clemson when the Eagles barely scratched out 50 total yards, or the Virginia Tech game where Dave Shinskie had a whopping four passing yards and two picks in 12 attempts.  USC can't claim offensive performances as bad as some of the ones BC has had this year, but that did not stop them from also managing to go 8-4.

The aforementioned Shinskie, who wasn't really even the full-time quarterback until about the time Justin Tuggle jumped ship, completed about 53% of his passes, threw 14 touchdowns and 13 picks.  His passer rating ended up being only a few points lower than Barkley's, not that it makes much of a difference.  Our ex-minor leaguer had some good games, such as Central Michigan, but also some doozies like Notre Dame (3 turnovers), North Carolina (5 turnovers), and Virginia Tech (1/12, 4 yd, 2 INT). 

The rushing game looked like it would once again feature the 1-2 punch of Haden and Harris, but the 1 in the 1-2 punch made like Justin Tuggle and ditched BC.  Montel Harris did just fine on his own, however, rushing for 1355 yards and 13 touchdowns.

One guy the Eagles will surely miss after this year is Rich Gunnell, the senior wide receiver playing in his final game, who led his team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (750 and 6). 

Head-to-head, USC can likely claim the better offense, but the margin is not as big as it would have been a year ago, when Chris Crane and Dominique Davis were running the show for BC and celebrity quarterback Mark Sanchez ran the Trojans.  The Trojans have outgained the Eagles this year, but have turned it over a similar number of times.  Of course, these two units won't be on the same field at once: our next article will take a look at the defenses trying to stop these two teams.

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