After a shoulder injury held quarterback Matt Barkley out of last week’s upset loss to Washington, USC coach Pete Carroll named the true freshman the starter for Saturday’s game against Washington State after practice on Wednesday.
“We’re going to go with Matt in the game,” Carroll said after practice. “It’s clear that he had a very good day today.”
Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates also noticed an uptick in Barkley’s performance Wednesday, which included a turnover-free practice on a day Carroll stressed would be all about ball security.
“Matt looks good, and he’s getting better every day,” Bates said.
Barkley’s performance on Wednesday was finally good enough for the coaching staff to reaffirm Barkley’s insistence Tuesday that he would be the starter against the Cougars, although the coaches did restrict Barkley’s attempts.
“He’s still controlled, we’re trying to make sure he makes it through practices every day,” Carroll said. “The way he responded today, we felt good about it.”
Redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp, last week’s starter, took a good percentage of the snaps in all offensive drills and looked good enough for the coaching staff to be reassured if anything were to happen to their starter.
“If [Barkley] has any problems Aaron’s ready to go,” Carroll said. “But right now, [Barkley] gives us the best chance to win.”
Injuries bothered USC last weekend, but many of the Trojans made steps on Wednesday that helped the coaches get a better sense of where everyone stood.
Senior safety Taylor Mays, who sat out last weekend’s game after spraining his knee against Ohio State, was finally able to return to practice on Wednesday and the staff was confident that he could return to action this weekend.
“Taylor had a good day, but we’ll see how he responds [Thursday],” Carroll said. “He will definitely have a chance to play this week.”
Junior linebacker Malcolm Smith had a sprained ankle that looked as though it would hold him out of action on Saturday, but Carroll described him as “better than they thought he would be” Wednesday.
Junior wide receiver Ronald Johnson, who broke his collarbone during the preseason scrimmage at the Coliseum, is making good progress as well.
“He’s coming out of the sling Saturday,” Carroll said. “He’s the fastest guy we’ve got and we miss his big strike ability, but he’s still a couple of weeks away.”
Redshirt junior Mitch Mustain, third on the quarterbacking depth chart, spent Wednesday’s practice working on his punting technique and impressed coaches with his speed.
“He’s a really good athlete and has the potential to be a really great [punter],” Carroll said. “He has a one-step kick, which gets the ball out very quickly.”
During 11-on-11 special teams drills, Mustain took just one snap as the punter, but was able to land the punt inside the 10-yard line and the kick coverage was able to down the kick at the one-yard line.
“He’s kicking about .300 right now, which would be great in baseball, but he’s got plenty of potential,” Carroll said.