USC’s offensive line dominated in loss

USC returned four starters on the offensive line. Sure, the one guy that didn’t return was the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft, but who knew it would have this type of effect on the entire group?

The loss of Matt Kalil combined with the leg injury to All-America candidate Khaled Holmes at center were part of why the Trojans offensive line struggled mightily in the loss at Stanford on Saturday.

The left tackle position vacated by Kalil is now on the verge of becoming a revolving door. Freshman Max Tuerk from Santa Margarita will get his chance to show what he can do this week in practice with the first team, head coach Lane Kiffin announced.

“There will be a competition this week between Max and Aundrey Walker,” Kiffin said.

Walker, a redshirt freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, has underperformed through the Trojans’ first three games. He was outclassed at times by the Stanford defensive line and mental mistakes that hampered him during fall camp have followed him into the season – none more noticeable than Saturday night at Stanford Stadium, including a false start that led to the 4th-and-40 USC faced on their last offensive play of the game. 

“We have standards of an expectation here that our team is well aware of and that Aundrey’s well aware of and his effort in that game did not meet those,” Kiffin said. “He understands that. He saw it on film. As we tell our players, it’s ‘Tell the Truth Sunday.’

“Now (Walker can) go back to work and have a chance to stay there or move out.”

Tuerk impressed the coaching staff during fall camp with his grasp of the offense and the impact he was able to make on the field as a true freshman, despite not being an early enrollee. He spent time with the first team in place of Walker when he was sidelined with an injury during camp.

Kiffin was so impressed with Tuerk, he went as far as to change his uniform number to No. 75, the number once worn by Kalil. However, Kiffin said it was nothing to look into and No. 75 was just “a better tackle number.”

Kiffin called Saturday’s game the worst performance he’s seen by USC over his two stints in terms of “physical style.”  He said the Cardinal front seven “really dominated us.”

Quarterback Matt Barkley was sacked four times and hit a bunch more. Kiffin described him as being “pretty beat up mentally and physically” following the loss. 

“Any time that you have a senior that’s an All-American center versus that defensive front and what they do, that’s not going to benefit you a lot and it’s certainly not going to help the quarterback,” Kiffin said.

The Cardinal had success bringing pressure up the middle and especially when lining up a nose tackle on top of center Cyrus Hobbi. The Trojans had no answer for it and Hobbi was left in a vulnerable position, often times getting beat at the point of attack before Barkley could secure the snap. 

“It puts a lot of pressure your center. It’s not a lot you can do to help him,” said Kiffin of facing a 3-4 defense. “That’s the most difficult team on our schedule you could play for a guy to have to make his first start at center because of what they do and also because of how good 99 (Terrence Stephens) is.”

Despite Holmes being out of the lineup, the line calls did not become a responsibility of Barkley because “he has too many things going on.” As usual, that responsibility was the job of the center.  As a group, the offensive line had more missed assignments in a game than any Kiffin-led team, the head coach said. The Cardinal tallied 10 tackles for loss.

If Holmes isn’t able to play this week, the Trojans will elect to go with Abe Markowitz at center. Neither were available against Stanford, leaving Hobbi as the third option to make his first career start.

The competition between Walker and Tuerk will begin Tuesday when the Trojans return to the practice field.