Based on the lopsided 56-3 score, Saturday’s test drive against the Spartans of San Jose State was a success for the USC Trojans as both teams opened their 2009 season. While Southern Cal fans have to be thrilled with the dominance of the Trojan running game after watching them pulverize the SJSU defense to the tune of six rushing touchdowns, they were equally pleased to see a mistake-free performance by true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. The teenage phenom out of Mater Dei started off slowly as his first completed pass went for -2 yards, his second was overthrown out of bounds, and the Trojans faced a 3-0 deficit after the first quarter. But USC offensive coordinator John Morton kept Barkley’s responsibilities in check. As he spent most of the day handing of the ball to running backs, Barkley rarely threw a pass more than ten yards.
Not every 18 year-old would flourish after being handed the proverbial keys to the Ferrari that is the USC offense, but Barkley did well enough to establish himself as a young leader of this 2009 Trojan squad with 233 passing yards, his first TD pass, and only 4 incompletions all afternoon. Throughout Barkley’s mistake-free performance, he consistently kept the chains moving with a series of bubble screens and short passes. Throw in USC’s dominant 342-yard rushing attack, and Barkley looks like he won’t need to carry this program on his throwing shoulder in order for it to succeed.
Joe McKnight looks to continue his Trojan career as one of the most exciting Pac-10 running backs to watch since Reggie Bush went pro. McKnight’s juke-infused 54-yard TD scamper showcased not only his intrepid vision, but his supreme cutting abilities as well. Between McKnight, junior Marc Tyler, seniors Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford, and USC’s mammoth offensive line, the running game, which averaged 7.6 yards-per-carry against the Spartans, looks to serve as the dominant presence in the Trojan offense while Barkley continues to gain valuable experience under center.
The USC passing game didn’t leave much to be desired, either. Senior wideout Damien Williams figures to be a solid veteran presence that will help to ease Barkley’s transition. Another solid senior, Stanley Havili, is adept out of the backfield as both a shifty running back as well as a sure-handed receiver. Add in 6’5” senior tight end Anthony McCoy, and Barkley has a slew of capable targets to help him maintain USC’s presence as one of the top programs in college football. Even backup QB Aaron Corp was able to contribute in the fourth quarter, as he completed all four of his passes for 45 yards and a 13-yard score to DJ Shoemate.
When matched up against the Trojan defense, the Spartans were lucky to have scored three points and have had a lead given that they totaled nine rushing yards for an average of .3 yards per carry. Furthermore, five Spartans amassed negative rushing yardage Saturday. The SJSU passing game looked out of sync for most of the game as they could only muster 3.7 yards per pass. In short, the Trojans were bigger, stronger, faster, and deeper on both sides of the ball. They couldn’t have asked for a better warm-up game, and they certainly didn’t look past San Jose State toward next week's big game.
In order for the Trojans to continue their ascent in the polls (they should expect to be elevated to a #3 ranking after Oklahoma was upset by BYU in their first game), USC will need to cut down on the fumbles, and improve their third-down efficiency. Converting only two out of nine third downs may be enough to get by San Jose State, but the men of Troy will need an improved conversion percentage next week when they travel into Columbus for their highly-anticipated rematch against sixth-ranked Ohio State, a team that is still embarrassed to have gotten trounced 35-3 in the Coliseum last September.