The talk following Friday’s game might have been junior quarterback Matt Barkley’s play and record-breaking performance with six touchdown passes.
But USC’s special teams’ play has arguably been one of the Trojans’ biggest strengths this season. Entering the game, junior left tackle Matt Kalil was responsible for two blocked field-goal attempts and two point-after attempts. On Friday night, the Trojans blocked two field-goal attempts, giving them a total of four blocked field-goal attempts and two point-after attempts through nine games this season.
“We always try to go for the ball,” Kalil said. “It was definitely a momentum-changer for them not getting any points on those two drives and it helped us score [after those blocks].”
Kentucky holds the record for blocked field-goal attempts in a single season (2004) with six. Senior fullback Rhett Ellison got a hand on placekicker Will Oliver’s 31-yard attempt in the second quarter and redshirt freshman tight end Randall Telfer blocked a 37-yard attempt early in the third quarter.
“We studied their [special teams],” Telfer said. “We figured there was a weak link. We lined up and knew where to go. I was surprised he was kicking line drives. It kind of caught me by surprise, but I took advantage of it.”
The play of Barkley and his top targets — sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods and freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee — might have overshadowed the play of the Trojans’ running game. USC gained 243 yards on the ground on 33 carries, an average of more than seven yards per carry.
Because senior tailback Marc Tyler did not play, USC coach Lane Kiffin employed a three-back rotation. Junior tailback Curtis McNeal notched 10 carries for 87 yards but left the game early because of a thigh contusion. Redshirt freshman tailback D.J. Morgan had nine carries for 56 yards and freshman tailback Amir Carlisle finished with 10 carries for 90 yards, two receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Carlisle, who entered the game with just two rushes for 14 yards, was the recipient of Barkley’s sixth touchdown pass. Carlisle’s 19-yard score in the fourth quarter was also the first of his USC career.
“Coach called my number and I made the most of it,” Carlisle said. “The offensive line did a great job. It was a total team effort and it felt great to get in there and contribute.”
Carlisle’s play was not the only significant contribution from USC freshmen. The Trojans started a total of five true freshmen — Lee, offensive guard Marcus Martin, linebackers Lamar Dawson and Tre Madden and kicker Andre Heidari — and seven total freshmen including Telfer and linebacker Hayes Pullard, who redshirted last season.
“Almost everybody making plays is young,” Kiffin said. “Look at the touchdowns on offense — Amir Carlisle, a true freshman, Marqise Lee, a true freshman, Xavier Grimble — and then on the defensive side of the ball, three linebackers making plays that are freshmen. The future is very bright.”
Madden and Dawson made their first career starts at USC. Because freshman linebacker Dion Bailey was out with an injury, Madden replaced him in the starting lineup. As for Dawson, the coaching staff elected to start him rather than senior Chris Galippo.
“After last game, we saw [Dawson] had been playing well,” Kiffin said. “We wanted to see what he looked like.”
– With the win, USC is now 6-0 all-time against Colorado.
– Colorado’s touchdown in the first quarter was the first touchdown scored by the Buffaloes against USC in the three matchups between the two teams in Boulder.
– Matt Barkley became the first quarterback in USC history to throw five touchdown passes or more on four separate occasions.