Week 5 of the 2009 college football season cannot be considered a good week for the national credibility of the Pac-10 conference. First, sixth-ranked California got hammered by unranked Oregon 42-3. Arizona State, who had a golden opportunity to showcase its improved program by beating #21 Georgia on the road, blew a fourth quarter lead and instead fell 20-17 to the Bulldogs. Washington, who may have ended USC’s hopes of a national title with an improbable 16-13 victory last week, appeared to have lost all the momentum from last week’s shocker against the Trojans as they fell 34-14 to, ahem, first-place Stanford. Finally, USC manifested some of the on-field issues that have plagued them thus far in 2009 as they merely got by a Washington State team they pummeled last year 69-0.
The Trojans will have to work extra hard to regain their status as the team to beat in the Pac-10. Until then, Southern Cal needs to destroy the lackluster programs on its schedule, and Saturday’s 27-6 victory over Wazzu simply will not suffice. Third-down conversions continue to be a problem for the Trojans, as they only got a first down on 3 of 9 chances on Saturday. If USC can only achieve a 33% conversion against the likes of WSU, how can they expect to execute next week against Cal, much less Florida or Texas?
Based on the number of penalties USC accrued on Saturday, one might have thought they were the road team. Getting flagged 13 times for 115 yards is inexcusable in any contest, let alone against a team they were favored to beat by over six touchdowns! Trojan head coach Pete Carroll correctly summed up the situation in Saturday’s post-game press conference, "It's good to win, but we've got a lot of work to do," Carroll said. "It was just not the satisfying kind of win that we like to have. We had so many situations where we made it so hard on ourselves."
Credit the Washington State defense for playing with immeasurable heart in a game where nobody, including their own fan base, gave them a chance to win. USC, a program that has built its reputation on executing in fourth down-and-short situations, was twice stuffed at the goal line by the Cougars, and once on an early two-point conversion.
Quarterback Matt Barkley, the true freshman that missed the Washington game due to a bruised throwing shoulder, came back and turned in a gutsy performance by completing 13 of 22 passes for 247 and two first quarter touchdown passes within nine seconds of each other. Not only did he help lead the Trojans to victory, but also demonstrated some toughness after taking some punishing hits in the pocket. "When I had to gun it, I did," Barkley said. "It hurt, but whatever. It's football."
Barkley was able to involve his top receiver Damian Williams, as he led Trojan receivers with 5 catches for an even 100 yards. However, Barkley wasn’t asked to carry USC this week as he recovers from the injury he played through. The defense, which welcomed back All-American safety Taylor Mays, was entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the Cougars off the scoreboard. Southern Cal succeeded for over 59 and-a-half minutes, contributing eight sacks and an interception along the way.
If USC had not allowed a touchdown with 22 seconds left in the game, the defense could thump its chest after pitching a shutout, bringing an ample amount of momentum to the Bay Area next week in what many observers perceive to be the Pac-10 showdown of the season. Although neither team currently sits in first place, next week’s matchup of Barkley vs. Berkeley could determine who plays in the Rose Bowl, and who settles for the Holiday Bowl. Stay tuned, because Cal will be playing with a major chip on their shoulder after the humiliation they suffered in Eugene last Saturday.