Barkley, Trojans must pull through adversity again
LOS ANGELES --- The load on Matt Barkley’s shoulders has instantly become a lot heavier. The loss to Stanford last week wasn’t supposed to happen. He said so himself.
“I wasn’t expecting that that was going to happen this year,” Barkley said.
The loss against the Cardinal was huge. Not just because it was the fourth straight against the smart kids from up north, but it dropped USC from No. 2 to No. 13 in the AP Poll.
Gone are the days of sanctions past where rankings didn’t matter. This is serious stuff.
Barkley, who had thrown at least four touchdowns in his previous four games heading back to last season entering the Stanford game, failed to reach the endzone with that Heisman Trophy-worthy arm of his. He was, however, picked off by the Cardinal twice …on consecutive plays, no less.
“I made some poor decisions,” said Barkley, who completed 20-of-41 passes for 254 yards and two interceptions last week at Stanford. “We never really got into a rhythm, I think, on offense. A lot of that falls on me just because this is my offense.”
When it comes to the Heisman, he’s fallen in just about every Heisman poll known to man, while his NFL stock has dropped as well --all after one unceremonious Saturday evening that watched him fall to 0-4 in his career against Stanford.
USC’s offense was really bad and Kiffin said Barkley’s decision making when it came to the interceptions was “probably two of his worst decisions in our three years together.”
That’s quite a bit to overcome for Barkley as he prepares to lead the Trojans (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12 South) into their conference home opener against Cal (1-2, 0-0 Pac-12 North) on Saturday at 3 p.m., in the 100th meeting between the schools.
As big as the donut is in the winner’s column for Barkley in games played against Stanford, it’s just as big in the loser’s column in games played against Cal.
The Trojans have taken eight straight from the Golden Bears. Their last loss to Cal was the 34-31 triple overtime loss in 2003. The Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.
If there’s a lesson learned from Stanford, it’s certainly not to overlook these Golden Bears.
“We can’t take them lightly,” Barkley said.
Cal’s defense presents one major issue for the Trojans that made last Saturday a walking nightmare – an odd front. The Cardinal were successful at getting pressure lining up a nose over the center, stuffing the run, and in Stanford head coach David Shaw’s words “sounds crazy” by forcing USC to become a passing team. There’s a notion that those are ingredients of the blueprint on how to beat USC, but Kiffin says that may not be true.
“I don’t think that. I think they showed a blueprint of how to play really good defense regardless of who you play,” Kiffin said. “Football’s been played for a long time and when you win up front you win a lot of games and when you’re defensive line can get a rush like that, it makes any quarterback not play as well as they normally do and that was really the story.
“I don’t think it was as much scheme as much as they really played really, really hard and they tackled really well.”
The hits Barkley took from the Cardinal, which included four sacks, left him “pretty beat up mentally and physically.”
The veteran signal caller who ceremoniously returned to school for “Unfinished Business” he continuously finds himself in new positions. Like being the face of a team tabbed a preseason No. 1, being a Heisman frontrunner, and now being called out by his head coach.
“He knew it, coming off a very unusual (performance). That’s why I said it and I think he’ll agree. I know he’ll agree. If you have a safety over the top, you don’t throw fades into it. A million times he’s made the right decision there. That’s what happens. That’s going to happen to anybody like you (saw Monday night) to Peyton (Manning),” Kiffin said.
Barkley didn’t take exception to his head coach’s comments.
“He’s going to be real. He’s going to defend me when he has to and he’s going to be real when he has to,” he said. “I’m glad he’s not hiding me behind a curtain or anything like that. I know what I did. It’s not like he’s making fun of me or something to the public. It’s something that I definitely learned from and know not to do again.”
Barkley says he’s “not concerned at all” about the offensive line. Their performance, along with his, is going to have to be a lot better than it was last week. Once again, the Trojans’ senior quarterback finds himself at the forefront needing to lead himself and USC through a dose of adversity. However, this time hardware’s on the line, as in BCS hardware.
Such hardware won't be won on Saturday, but with a loss could be made less attainable.
Just three games in, there's a long road ahead. Heavy lifting required.