Southern Cal football coach Lane Kiffin was on ESPN radio Wednesday, defending his quarterback, Matt Barkley. Barkley has received some NFL Draft skepticism, but this was Kiffin’s response. Barkley missed four games in four years, and the Trojans struggled every time without him, going 0-4.
Specificially, in 2012, the Trojans lost 22-13 to Notre Dame and 21-7 to Georgia Tech, sans Barkley. Kiffin’s point was that USC excelled with Barkley. I don’t know if that’s true. USC lost to Stanford 21-14, won 24-14 at Washington, lost 38-28 at UCLA. But let’s give Kiffin the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say USC took a major drop when Barkley was sidelined. Let’s pin a metal on Barkley.
But isn’t that an indictment of Kiffin and his program and his offense? Which brings us back to Oklahoma State, where the Cowboy offense excelled despite constant quarterback change.
Wes Lunt went down with a knee injury, and J.W. Walsh took over and almost engineered a victory over Texas. OSU lost 41-36. Walsh was hurt in a 31-10 win over Iowa State. So Lunt returned and directed a 36-14 rout of TCU. Then Lunt was injured against Kansas State, and Clint Chelf took over. Chelf down the stretch directed victories over West Virginia 55-34 and Texas Tech 59-21, then also shined in losses of 51-48 (one overtime) to OU and 41-34 to Baylor. Then Chelf led a 58-14 thrashing of Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
So how rare is that? How rare does an offense just keep humming along even when its quarterback is lost. I found all the major-conference teams that had to start a backup quarterback during the 2012 season. Now, no one had a success story like OSU. No team that I could find resorted to its third-team QB. But here is what I found.
Arizona: Matt Scott missed the Colorado game, and B.J. Denker was good in a 56-31 rout of Colorado. Denker completed 12 of 14 passes for 136 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns.
Duke: Sean Renfree missed the Virginia game, and Anthony Boone was excellent in a 42-17 victory over Virginia. Renfree completed 18 of 31 passes for four touchdowns, no interceptions and 212 yards.
Oregon State: The Beavers didn’t have a great offense under quarterback Sean Mannion. Decent, but not great. Yet Mannion missed three games, and the Beavers didn’t miss a beat. They went 3-0 under Cody Vaz. In a 42-24 victory over Brigham Young, Vaz completed 20 of 32 with three TDs, no interceptions and 332 yards. In a 21-7 win over Utah, Vaz completed 16 of 26, no picks or touchdowns, 174 yards. In a 36-26 win over Arizona State, Vaz completed 14 of 33, one interception, three TDs and 267 yards.
Purdue: Robert Marve missed three games, and the Boilermakers went 2-1. In a couple of non-conference wins, Caleb TerBush was fine. He completed 16 of 24 with one interception, two TDs and 158 yards in a 54-16 rout of Eastern Michigan, then TerBush completed 27 of 37 with one interception, four TDs and 294 yards in a 51-41 win over Marshall. But TerBush also quarterbacked Purdue in a 29-22 overtime loss to Ohio State, completing 19 of 30 with two TDs, one interception and 230 yards. I saw Purdue play. The Boilermakers stink. To go to overtime with a backup quarterback against Ohio State is quite impressive.
South Carolina: Connor Shaw missed two games. Dylan Thompson came through for the Gamecocks both times. In a 48-10 rout of East Carolina, Thompson completed 21 of 37, no interceptions, three TDs, 330 yards. In a much bigger game, Thompson completed 23 of 41 with one interception, three TDs and 310 yards in a 27-17 win over Clemson.
Washington State: An interesting comparison to OSU, because of the Mike Leach roots of the Cowboy offense. WSU’s Jeff Tuel missed two games, and backup Connor Halliday was OK in both games. He completed 26 of 45 passes, with two interceptions and four touchdowns, with 378 yards in a 35-27 victory over Nevada-Las Vegas, then Halliday completed 32 of 60 for four touchdowns, two interceptions and 401 yards, in a 35-34 loss to Colorado.
Vanderbilt: Jordan Rodgers missed the Presbyterian game, and though Austyn Carti-Samuels (Austyn? Does he have a brother named Houstun?) played well — 13 of 20, one TD, no picks, 195 yards — it was against Presbyterian. The Commodores won 58-0.
Texas: David Ash missed the Kansas State game, and the Longhorns lost 42-24. But Case McCoy played solid. Texas wasn’t going to beat KSU with Colt McCoy at QB. Case McCoy completed 26 of 34 with two interceptions, two TDs and 314 yards.
Arkansas: Tyler Wilson missed the Alabama game, which was not going to go well if Bill Montgomery in his prime was quarterbacking the Razorbacks. But backup Brandon Allen completed 10 of 18 with two interceptions, for 60 yards. Bama won 52-0.
South Florida: The Bulls were 3-6 under B.J. Daniels. Then Matt Floyd took over and the bottom fell out. Floyd completed 20 of 35 with two interceptions, no TDs and 175 yards in a 40-9 loss to Miami. Then he completed 21 of 39 with no picks or TDs, for 176 yards in a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati. Finally, in a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh, Floyd completed 12 of 26 with three interceptions, no touchdowns and 93 yards.
Southern Cal: Max Wittek replaced Barkley and was ineffective. Against Notre Dame, Wittek completed 14 of 23, with two interceptions, one TD and 186 yards. Against Georgia Tech, Wittek was worse — 14 of 37, three interceptions, one TD and 107 yards.
So some teams were able to maintain their productivity with backup quarterbacks. In fact, I was surprised at the level of success with backup quarterbacks. No team had to go to a third-teamer, much less excelled when doing so.
That’s a salute to a variety of people. Mike Gundy, Dana Holgorsen, Todd Monken, Joe Wickline, the OSU playmakers, the OSU line, the quarterbacks themselves. It’s the best indication yet that OSU’s offense is in a high gear that isn’t likely to slow. And that Southern Cal has no excuses.