Stanford delivers blow to Barkley, USC
Barkley hit Marqise Lee, who made a beautiful adjustment and just got his foot down for an 18-yard gain on fourth-and-5. Then he hit freshman Nelson Agholor for 20 yards to the Cardinal 46. But tailback Curtis McNeal was dropped for a 3-yard loss, the Trojans were called for holding and a false start, and Barkley was sacked twice, leaving him with a fourth-and-40 (!) heave to Robert Woods that fell incomplete and out of bounds.
"You guys heard the talk," said Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner, who had two tackles for loss. "You turn on ESPN, all they're talking about is USC-Stanford but not a word about Stanford. It's all about Woods and Barkley and Lee and Heisman trophies. I won't say we were insulted by it, but it definitely motivates you to want to put your best foot forward."
Gardner was not sure if Barkley was flustered, but he knew that with Woods and Lee — who are widely considered the best receiver tandem in the country — they had to get to Barkley, who was sacked only eight times all of last season. Woods and Lee caught 12 passes Saturday, but for only 138 yards combined.
"There's definitely a greater sense of urgency to get home and get to Barkley, because you know if he can get the ball out of his hands, you never know when it can go all the way to the house," Gardner said. "We used that as extra fuel today to give us a little extra juice up front."
Stanford coach David Shaw said the Cardinal had little choice but to get after Barkley.
"You have to," he said. "If you sit back there, the quarterback is too good. Regardless of what happened tonight, that is the best quarterback in the country. If you give him too much time, he will kill you."
And that is what had to be gnawing at Barkley. He did not play poorly, completing 20 of 41 passes for 254 yards, but he did not do what a great quarterback does — cover up his team's shortcomings.
If his line could not block, his backs could not run and he could not always be on target, he could at least rescue his team. It was what Luck did last season.
And that, as much as anything, has to be killing Barkley.