Barkley moves to the front
Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley has taken the lead over senior Mitch Mustain in the race for the Trojansâ starting quarterback position, USC coach Lane Kiffin said after practice Thursday.
The announcement came after Barkley completed the vast majority of his passes in an intra-squad scrimmage during the practice that marked the halfway point of spring ball. Barkley also made several impressive throws under pressure.
âMattâs been playing really, really well,â Kiffin said. âMitch has had a few too many turnovers, bad decision making, but heâs doing good too.â
Kiffin quickly dispelled any notions that the job is Barkleyâs on a permanent basis.
âWeâll continue as we go out there to split the reps,â Kiffin said. âMaybe as we go into next week [the quarterback race] will change. Weâll see how they play Saturday.â
Many of Barkleyâs passes were in the direction of senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson, who was open on nearly every play the Trojans ran.
âIt appears to be obvious that they have really grown together,â Kiffin said of Barkley and Johnson. â[Johnson] has become the go-to guy this spring because he makes plays. Itâs exciting to see. At the rate theyâre going, I think itâs going to be a special combination.â
Johnson agreed with his coach, saying that he and Barkley were able to develop chemistry both on and off the field.
âI tried to hang with [Barkley] as much as possible,â Johnson said. âIf he goes out, Iâm going to go out. I just try to understand what he does, pick his mind a little bit, and we just connected from there.â
Meanwhile, Mustain was solid, if not quite as sharp as Barkley. While it seemed like a majority of Barkleyâs passes were on the money, Mustain occasionally threw into empty spaces and on one pass overthrew his receiver by five feet resulting in an interception.
However, Kiffin made it clear that Mustain was not the only player who needed improvement.
âToday was just okay,â Kiffin said. âIt was a little bit sloppy. We need to pick the tempo up, the physical aspect of practice. Guys canât get complacent, even the guys who are playing at a higher level.â
As for the rest of the offense, the Trojans continued to experiment with the Wildcat formation, sending Barkley out wide and putting freshman tailback (and new YouTube sensation) Dillon Baxter behind center. For Baxter, who ran the offense at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, the formation is a bit trickier at the college level.
âThe defensive ends are way faster,â Baxter said with a laugh. âThe linebackers read it real well. As an offense, we just have to keep running it and see where it takes us.â
With the second half of spring football beginning Saturday, Kiffin says he expects the team to start taking bigger steps.
âItâs time to go to the next level,â Kiffin said. âWe need to make sure guys want to be the best in the country, not just the best on this field.â