Matt Barkley may have won the war of words in the media, but Vontaze Burfict won the battle on the field.
Barkley and Burfict have been waging war since their scholastic days. Barkley went to Mater Dei while Burfict starred at nearby Corona. Barkley knew that Burfict played hard and could be a loose cannon at times, but perhaps Barkley went a little too far calling Burfict a dirty player whose switch was always on.
Even the Sun Devil coaches had become fed up with Burfict’s loose play last year and benched him. But tonight in Tempe, Burfict showed Barkley and USC that he could be a very smart player as well.
Tonight, both teams scored three times in the first half. But the Sun Devils put up sevens while the Trojans could only manage threes. Barkley was not only ineffective in the red zone, he was miserable.
He struggled with trajectory and accuracy. Much of that had to do with Burfict freelancing from his middle linebacker spot. Sometimes he would shoot the gap; other times he would drop into coverage or just sit back in the middle and wait for Barkley to make his move.
And that was exactly what Burfict did at a critical moment in the first half, which set the tone for what was to come.
With USC in the red zone, Barkley went back to pass and saw Robert Woods cutting across the middle. He didn’t see Vontaze Burfict cutting underneath.
A score there would have drawn USC to within a point of the Sun Devils, 14-13. Instead, Burfict reached out and picked off Barkley’s pass and returned it to midfield, where Barkley made his best play of the night. He actually tackled Burfict.
To show that he is indeed a good sport, Burfict helped Barkley up and patted him on the head. No hard feelings, I suppose, for what Barkley had said about him.
USC’s defense, which had just come off the field after a stop, had to rush back on and was not ready to deal with Brock Osweiler, Cameron Marshall and the Sun Devils offense.
So, instead of the Trojans going in for a score, it was Arizona State that scored and went up 21-6.
I guess it is just one of those inexplicable occurrences in sports, but Matt Barkley just does not play well in Sun Devil Stadium.
In 2009, USC won an ugly affair in Tempe, 14-9. Barkley was a mere 7-for-22 with a TD and a pick.
Although Barkley came back after the break, going five-for-five on the Trojans’ first drive and ending it with a picture-perfect fade to Marquise Lee for the score, it was not to be his night.
The Trojans would score once more to take their one and only lead of the night, 22-21. But from there on, it would be all Burfict and the Sun Devils defense.
They forced Barkley into another critical red-zone miscue. Barkley fumbled with USC hoping to retake the lead after a Sun Devil score.
At this point, you knew Barkley just had to have a pick six in him somewhere. That came at the 6:48 mark of the fourth period. Shelly Lyons was the culprit. He picked Barkley at the USC 41 and took it to the house.
It is one thing when you go on the road for the first time with young players and hope they don’t make too many mistakes. It is quite another thing when your veteran leader plays like an inexperienced freshman and makes one mental error after another.
That not only set the tone for the offense, but for the defense as well. Monte Kiffin’s gang took their cue from Barkley and the mistake-prone offense and reverted back to 2010 form, missing a slew of tackles and coverage assignments.
In the end, the 43-22 whacking at the hands of the Sun Devils was the worst performance of Barkley’s career and the Kiffin era.
All in all, it was anything but a Heisman performance from Barkley. Burfict, on the other hand, proved why he is on a half-dozen watch lists.
The moral: If you cannot say something nice about your opponent, then keep your mouth shut, Matt.