LOS ANGELES — The now infamous picture of Matt Barkley leaving the Rose Bowl with his throwing arm in sling last November continues to be the lingering image of USC’s 2012 football season.
Barkley was caught alone in the hallway with his right arm wrapped close to his body underneath a half-zipped warmup jacket and his face hidden underneath a baseball cap following the Trojans’ loss to bitter rival UCLA. It was a microcosm of USC’s 2012 season: a once-promising team that fell far short of the hype surrounding it.
The person most responsible for Barkley in that pose is UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. With only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Bruins up 38-28, Barr laid out the Trojans’ star quarterback with a highlight-reel sack, dislocating Barkley’s shoulder.
“I want to know why the tackle just (won’t) let me go,” the All-American linebacker said as he downplayed the hit Friday afternoon at the Sony Pictures lot during Pac-12 Media Day. He insisted the play was not as important as it’s now made out to be.
It’s tough to deny that it was a key hit. Barkley, the former Heisman hopeful, would not return for the remainder of the Trojans’ season.
“He should be standing up here and talking to you guys, because he’s the reason why I was able to make that play,” Barr said. “And the play call was pretty good, too.”
Now, it’s Barr who finds himself in the Heisman spotlight.
In only his first year playing linebacker, Barr terrorized opposing quarterbacks. He was second in the nation with 13.5 sacks, tied for fifth in tackles for loss (21.5) and was among the leaders in sacks per game (0.96). A freak of athletic nature, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Barr has put on bulk and increased his speed – his 40 time of 4.46 seconds is comparable to the best marks of this year’s combine – and his instincts and playmaking give him a combination of tools that strike fear in even the most elite quarterbacks.
“I possess a lot of skills that a person of much smaller stature might have: being fast, agility, being able to move in a tight space and being able to change direction pretty fast,” Barr said. “I think all of those things allowed me to be successful quickly.”
Barr insists that the transition wasn’t as seamless as it appeared. In fact, in his first game as a linebacker last season he lined up in the wrong spot on the first snap.
“I didn’t really know what was going on. I was kind of just running around out there with my head cut off,” Barr said. “But if I was going to make a mistake, I was going to make a mistake at full speed.”
He has yet to take his foot off the gas.
“I’ve been vocal talking about how Anthony is one of the dominant players on his side of the ball,” said head coach Jim Mora, who has even gone as far as to say that Barr is just as good, if not better, than South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
There’s only been one defensive player to ever win a Heisman Trophy – Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 – and this season Barr and Clowney are among a couple of top candidates on defense.
“It needs to be well-merited and well-warranted,” Barr said. “If a defender does warrant that award, then definitely. But until that time, offensive players are going to get that award because they’re the ones scoring touchdowns and putting points on the board.”
UCLA has just a single Heisman winner in Gary Beban in 1967, but Barr, a local Loyola product out of San Pedro, insists that he feels no pressure. The once-shy f-back has seemingly come out of his shell and welcomed the attention.
“If my play warrants it, then it would be deserved, and I have no problem with that attention,” Barr said. “This is the most attention I’ve got, ever, in my life right now. I have no problem being up here.”
Barr has officially thrown his hat into the ring. Let the campaigning begin.