Young Barkley shows comfort in hot seat
Matt Barkley is not like you or me. He may never have been, but he certainly never will be from now on.
Iâm not trying to dehumanize the great freshman hope, who has been just as impressive in interviews as he has been on the field. Every time that I have talked to him, he has been easy to converse with and seems comfortable with the demands that have been thrust upon him. He breaks the archetype of the present-day 18-year-old while simultaneously reminding you of his young age every so often.
For better or worse, that description also fits his play behind center. When youâre watching him, itâs easy to forget that heâs a freshman until he does something, well, freshman-like.
As USCâs new starting quarterback, Barkley now faces the unenviable task of having his mindset rewired to make sure heâs ready for the season. Normal students might be accepted for their faults or shortcomings, but any flaw in Barkleyâs approach will be poked and prodded by the coaching staff, as well as the media.
The biggest change Barkley will have to make on the field is to rein in his gunslinger mentality, which has been a point of emphasis since his arrival last spring. While he has shown flashes of brilliance, his highlight reel plays have been marred by turnovers and errant throws that are a result of his confident style of play.
But trying to change Barkleyâs playing method seems unfair, if not hypocritical, of USC coach Pete Carroll.
Whatâs at stake for the Trojans is clear, as USC is 47-0 in its last 47 games in which it had fewer turnovers than the opposing team. Carrollâs system demands that the quarterback act as a point guard, spreading the ball around to his various weapons.
In the past, players who try to be world-beaters have tended to struggle under Carrollâs reign.
âAll the quarterbacks have to stop trying too hard,â Carroll said after Saturdayâs mock game at the Coliseum. âThat will continue to be the issue for anyone who plays for us.â
Although Carrollâs demands may make sense, his approach has at times been baffling. Despite tabbing someone less than a year removed from high school as the starting quarterback, Carroll has said he wonât have tempered expectations for the offense or a higher tolerance for turnovers.
This is to be expected from the known gunslinger, who threw eight interceptions during fall camp?
If Carroll had wanted a caretaker to the offense, Aaron Corp would have more than fulfilled the role. The redshirt sophomore was virtually flawless in fall camp, showing a maturity by distributing the ball and knowing when to get rid of it. Corpâs biggest mistake may have been being unlucky enough to suffer a cracked fibula that helped cede the stage to Barkley.
But Carroll saw something in Barkley that was undeniable. He has a moxie about him, a command of the offense generally unseen in players his age. He may take his fair share of risks, but he has a chance to make good on almost any throw he attempts.
The bar is set high (and rightfully so), and there will be plenty of bitter moments to accompany the sweet ones, a fact that the coaching staff and fans should digest now instead of midseason. Carroll even seems to acknowledge that he is demanding more than whatâs reasonable from Barkley.
âTo think, how could he possibly be a finished product at this point? But weâre kind of expecting it,â Carroll said after Saturdayâs scrimmage.
The problem in trying to curtail Barkleyâs turnovers is that itâs not a matter of simply telling him âstop doing that.â Barkleyâs freewheeling style goes back to his days at Mater Dei, where he was a four-year starter and called upon to jumpstart the offense.
Barkley said he wants to get to the point where he is thinking less on the field, but thatâs difficult when your instincts are telling you to make throws that would put you in the coachâs doghouse.
The rewiring experiment has been somewhat successful so far, as Barkley eschewed chucking the ball deep for more reasonable routes at Saturdayâs scrimmage. But at times he was still tentative, which is easy to understand when heâs trying to compute a wealth of information and make a throw in only a few seconds.
What might be best for Barkley is finding a middle ground. Fellow gunslinger Mark Sanchez looked most comfortable last year when he found a balance between picking apart defenses and making the occasional big throw.
âYouâre not going to get those home runs every play, and when you get them you have to take them,â Barkley said. âBut the shallow routes will open things up.â
Until Barkley finds his center, a more reasonable course of action might be to focus on bouncing back from disappointment. Whenever Sanchez threw an interception last year, he had a look on his face as though he had just accidentally broken every trophy in Heritage Hall. Barkley will have enough weight on him as a freshman, so figuring out how to take some of it off will be key.
USC fans might not afford him the same luxury, as they demand a near elite-level performance every week from their quarterback.
But above all, Barkley should be allowed to be true to himself.
Itâs taken him pretty far up to this point.
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