One thing is for sure — there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it this time.
Unlike last week, freshman Matt Barkley is certifiably the starting quarterback this Saturday, when the No. 12 Trojans (2-1) host struggling Washington State (1-2).
This comes in direct contrast to USC coach Pete Carroll’s method last week, when he declined to publicly name a starter with Barkley severely limited in practice and backup Aaron Corp tentative in practice.
Corp, a redshirt sophomore, told reporters after the game — his first career start — that he was never officially told he would be the starter.
Of course, the Trojans lost to Washington on the penultimate play of the game, 16-13.
Since then, USC has dropped nine spots in the Associated Press Top-25 poll and the public’s approval of the team — and Carroll’s coaching — has noticeably decreased.
Carroll took full responsibility in Seattle, pointing only to himself when asked who was to blame.
Senior safety Taylor Mays has yet to take part in 11-on-11 drills since suffering a right knee sprain against Ohio State on Sept. 12. Starting junior weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith is likely out for the Washington State tilt with a high ankle sprain.
But not all is gloomy in the land of Troy.
Collectively, the USC defense, which Carroll called “really good” in his Tuesday press conference, ranks 12th among all Football Bowl Subdivision schools in yards allowed per game.
And on offense, the Trojans have nearly doubled what their defense has allowed in yards.
Sitting on the schedule after Washington State is a date with No. 6 Cal next weekend.
But USC is adamant to not look past Saturday’s game first.
“Washington State comes off a very dramatic and resounding and very exciting comeback win,” Carroll said. “It was really a great effort, and one that I know they’re excited about and have worked hard to deserve and all.”
The Cougars outlasted Southern Methodist 30-27 last Saturday. They came back from trailing 27-13 in the fourth quarter to win on a 39-yard field goal by Nico Grasu in overtime.
“This is an improved football team,” Carroll said. “They come into the Coliseum, hopefully we’ll play very well against them and make it very difficult on them to keep their positive stuff from happening.”
Of course, the Cougars will be without the services of their leading rusher, junior James Montgomery, who suffered a severe leg injury in overtime of the win over Southern Methodist.
Montgomery, a transfer from Cal who made his Washington State debut this season, was rushed to the emergency room early Sunday morning when it was learned he had acute compartment syndrome, which, if untreated, can lead to amputation and even death.
Replacing him will be senior Dwight Tardy. The Walnut, Calif. native, has led the Cougars in rushing for each of the last three seasons but has averaged only 4.3 yards per carry.
Redshirt sophomore Marshall Lobbestael will start at quarterback for the Cougars. He rotated with redshirt senior Kevin Lopina for the first two games but took over the job full-time last Saturday.
Washington State second-year head coach Paul Wulff spoke highly of Lobbestael in his Tuesday press conference.
“We just felt like we needed more of a spark in our game and I think that Marshall Lobbestael can do that for us and we wanted to give him an opportunity,” Wulff said. “He’s coming off an injury from a year ago that sidelined his season and he seems to be kind of slowly making it back and getting more and more comfortable.”
Against SMU, Lobbestael completed 24-of-52 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
On defense, Washington State boasts two award-winners at linebacker. Senior Andy Mattingly, a former defensive end, was all All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention as a sophomore. Sophomore outside linebacker Louis Bland, a Phil Steele Freshman All-American Third-Team last season, is undersized at just 5-foot-10, 202 pounds but is known as a rising star in the Pac-10.
That said, it’s likely that Washington State will be overmatched come Saturday.
Last season’s matchup between these two teams saw USC win 69-0 on the road.
“We’re facing a very, very talented football team,” Wulff said. “They’re well-coached and it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”