Will Barkley’s bruised shoulder allow the coaches to open up the offense?
That was the question on the minds of most USC fans heading into Saturday night’s matchup against Washington State, and the question was answered on the Trojans second drive of the game, when Matt Barkley hit Stanley Havili up the right sideline for a 33-yard gain.
With the big gain the Coliseum crowd took a collective sigh of relief and suddenly the USC passing game, which mustered just 110 yards last week, had some life.
“He found a way to do it even though he is still hurting,” Carroll said of his freshman quarterback.
The Trojans didn’t score on the drive but the sight of Barkley connecting on a big play through the air was encouraging enough to get USC fans excited.
After the Trojans’ defense held Washington State to a three-and-out on their next possession, and Damian Williams returned a punt 26 yards to the USC 28, the passing game came up with another big play.
Barkley lofted a pass into the hands of Brice Butler for a 29-yard score that gave the Trojans a 13-0 lead and Butler the first touchdown reception of his career.
“It was a corner route and I was pretty much uncovered,” Butler said. “I ran the route and looked around and saw the ball in the air and I was like ‘It’s time to make this catch, get in the end zone, and score.’
“I didn’t feel anything until about three seconds after. I saw this dude going crazy, and I just started going crazy, and I felt all of the energy from the fans.”
Following Butler’s touchdown, USC kicker Jacob Harfman recovered his own onside kick to give the Trojans the ball back, and the offense immediately took advantage of the opportunity.
Barkley hit Damian Williams over the middle and the elusive wide receiver did the rest, racing past the Washington State defense for a 57-yard touchdown.
“They played a couple of coverages that allowed for us to get the ball down the field a little bit more, so we were able to take advantage of that,” said Williams, who finished the night with a team-high 5 receptions for 100 yards and a score.
After missing last week’s 16-13 loss at Washington with a bone bruise in his right shoulder, Matt Barkley returned to action Saturday night and provided the passing game with a much-needed spark.
“We knew we could stretch them vertically,” Barkley said. “We were going to try to throw the ball deep.”
The freshman quarterback passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns while completing 13-of-22 pass attempts, and took advantage of Washington State’s overmatched defense.
“We want to be a well-balanced football team and move the ball in a variety of ways,” Carroll said. “I thought tonight was very much in line with how we like to play.”
While the conservative playbook was finally scrapped for a more aggressive approach, the Trojans still have plenty of progress to make before next week’s showdown at Cal.
After the encouraging first quarter that was filled with big plays in the passing game, USC’s offense didn’t find its way back into the end zone until Stafon Johnson scored from six yards out in the fourth quarter, and penalties remain an issue.
“The way I look at this game, we have a lot of work to do. We were in command the whole game and a lot of guys got to play,” Carroll said. “But with 13 penalties, we couldn’t get a flow. There’s a lot of room for improvement.”
The defense, which continues to be the strength of the team, had another stellar performance keeping the Cougars off the scoreboard until the closing minute of the game.
The USC defense recorded six quarterback sacks in the first-half and eight total.
Defensive end Nick Perry and linebacker Michael Morgan led the way with two sacks a piece, while Jordan Campbell had a team-high 8 tackles, before leaving the game with a sprained left ankle.
“We were in control and we were on top of everything they tried to do,” Carroll said. “With eight sacks, it was a pretty big night. Those guys played solid.”
The Trojans also finished the night plus one in the turnover battle thanks to the three forced turnovers by the defense. Josh Pinkard had an interception and defensive linemen Jurrell Casey and Devon Kennard both recovered fumbles.
The Trojans have plenty of positives to take away from their 27-6 win, but as Pete Carroll stressed after the game, there is still plenty of work ahead.
“We have to keep working at it,” Carroll said. “We are an unfinished product.”
Jordan Campbell had a team-high 8 tackles.
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