The game was supposed to be all about freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. But it was junior running back Joe McKnight who stole the show.
McKnight’s tackle-breaking, razzle-dazzle 54-yard touchdown run in the third quarter punctuated his performance as he reminded fans of a certain running back that played here four years ago.
That run was the highlight of McKnight’s day, as he led USC with 145 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns in the Trojan’s 56-3 demolition of San Jose State.
“The game plan this week had a lot of plays for me. Once I got going they just fed me the ball and gave it to me on the edge or up the middle and I was able to pound it in,” McKnight said.
McKnight wasn’t the only running back making noise for the Trojans. Senior Stafon Johnson rushed for USC’s first two touchdowns of the afternoon and redshirt junior Allen Bradford broke through with 53 yards and one touchdown.
Overall, USC finished off the game with 342 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.
But even with the running game’s success, everybody’s eyes were on how well No. 7 would play in front of 84,000 fans for the first time in his life.
He looked shaky early on, as the first five series for the offense ended with two fumbles and three punts and he only put up 20 passing yards in the first quarter.
However, he put quelled any anxiety and nervousness that was felt in the stands with his play over the remaining three quarters. He finished 15-for-19 for 233 yards and one four-yard touchdown to tight-end Rhett Ellison.
“It felt slow out there and I was calm. I felt really at home and didn’t feel nervous at all,” Barkley said.
Barkley was the first true freshman quarterback to ever start for the Trojans, and coach Pete Carroll was impressed with his demeanor on the field.
“Matt Barkley absolutely handled this,” Carroll said. “He was poised and it was no big deal for him. He had a smile on his face and loved every minute of it.”
Carroll has had some noteworthy quarterbacks come through in system, including Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez, but he puts Barkley in a whole different category.
“We’ve had great football players and great kids play quarterback here and nobody’s been able to do it like he’s done it,” Carroll said.
Turning point of the game:
When the clock started counting down from 15 minutes left in the second quarter. The Trojans’ offense finally woke up as it scored 28 points in the quarter and put the game to rest.
“We had a slow start, which was imaginable,” Carroll said. “We made some penalties and turnovers and that slowed it down. But this turned out just right for us.”
Nobody got through the offensive line. The unit, which has all five starters back from last year, gave Barkley plenty of time to throw and the running backs plenty of space to run.
“There shouldn’t be a question mark with these guys this year,” Offensive Line Coach Pat Ruel said. “I knew we were good enough to control the line of scrimmage and the performed well.”
Even though starter Kristofer O’Dowd was out with a shoulder injury, freshman Tyron Smith stepped in at right tackle and provided solid play as the Trojans ran the majority of their plays on that right side.
“Once we starting hitting the right side we stayed with it,” Ruel said. “Tyron is a big plus for us, he’s blossoming into a big-time right tackle. He’s going to be an All-American when it’s all done.”
Performers other than Barkley and McKnight of the week:
Much was made about the whole left at linebacker this year after USC had three linebackers drafted in the NFL. But the group of Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith shut down the Spartans offense as San Jose State gained only 121 yards on offense.
“We were talking about how nervous we were before the game because it’s been a while since we’ve been able to have the feeling of knowing you will be contributing a lot and making plays,” Galippo said.
Galippo seemed to be everywhere, as he led the team with nine tackles, three of them for a loss. He also forced a fumble and recorded half of a sack.
But what seemed most impressive was how the linebackers, and the defense as a whole, played in the first quarter when they were down 3-0 as the offense struggled out of the gate.
“I think the entire defense [made a statement], especially with the pressure on us in the first quarter,” Galippo said. “We stepped up and took the ball away twice.”
Galippo wasn’t the only linebacker making plays. Freshman Jarvis Jones had five tackles and redshirt freshman Nick Berry had two sacks.
But if you’re hoping to see a big bad group like last year, you probably will be disappointed.
“We are a different group. The other guys had the intimidation factor; we’re more of an assignment group. But I don’t think the production will drop off,” Galippo said.
Quote of the week: Pete Carroll on Matt Barkley: “He’s an outlier, he’s not typical or normal. Who wants to be normal anyways?”