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Breaking down Matt Barkley vs Notre Dame

This is the third game I’ve charted of Matt Barkley, and I’m starting to get a pretty strong idea of where his strengths and weaknesses lie. So in this piece I’ll breakdown the game and then provide some overall analysis of where he stands heading into the 2012 season.

As always, you can download the chart of this game here.

Downfield Accuracy
This category has been the primary focus with Barkley because it’s the one glaring weakness in his game. Through the first two games charted, Barkley had an accuracy rate beyond 15 yards of just 45.6 percent – meaning over the half of his deep balls were uncatchable.

Against Notre Dame, however, Barkley put together a solid performance, throwing an accurate pass on seven of his 10 throws beyond 15 yards.

This type of performance was definitely the exception rather than the rule for Barkley in 2011, but it does demonstrate his ability to be effective when throwing downfield. Now he just needs to demonstrate the ability to consistently turn in that type of performance in 2012.

Decision Making Under Pressure
I touched on this subject in my review of Barkley’s performance against Arizona State. Barkley does fairly well under pressure, but once the pocket collapses on top of him and he’s starting to get wrapped up, he panics. Twice against Arizona State he threw a pass up for grabs as he was being tackled, one of which was picked off and returned for a touchdown.

Against Notre Dame, it was more of the same. Three times Barkley gets wrapped up and throws up a prayer. Luckily for USC, Barkley actually completed one of these and the other two fell incomplete.

Here’s a great example of Barkley throwing the ball up for grabs late in the game. If you listen to the audio, Mike Mayock actually praises Barkley for getting rid of the football, but I have to disagree based on what I’ve seen in previous games. Barkley has shown that he’s not seeing the whole field on these last-second panic throws. Instead, he’s just getting rid of the football, with little regard for where the defenders are in relation to where and how hard he’s capable of throwing it.

This should be a very easy issue to fix, all he needs to do is hang on to the football and take a sack – and I’m guessing Barkley realizes his mistake almost immediately after he throws the ball. But in those moments of pressure instincts take over, and clearly Barkley needs to have the concept of ball security drilled into his head his offseason.

Some final thoughts on Barkley
While breaking down Barkley’s performances I’ve probably come across as overly critical, but there are a few reasons for that. For starters, I want to debunk the myth that Barkley is the slam-dunk No. 1 overall selection for 2013. He is not Andrew Luck and nothing is guaranteed for him.

But another reason for the criticism is actually due to the fact that the USC coaching staff trusts him more than most quarterbacks. He’s running a more complicated offense than Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech and, as a result, he’s being forced to make more difficult decisions. This draws attention to his flaws, but, in the long run, will be a valuable learning experience for him.

I still view Barkley as a 1st-round prospect entering the 2012 season, but that’s contingent on him continuing to develop. His downfield accuracy and his decision making under pressure are two issues which stand out from his 2011 performance and the USC coaching staff has undoubtedly noticed the same mistakes. If Barkley continues to develop in these areas and shows improvement in 2012, he will solidify his place in the 1st round and likely be in the top-10 discussion. However, if we see the same 2011 Barkley with minimal improvement, I will have a hard time giving him anything higher than a late 1st-round grade.

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