USC’s offense has remained a point of contention for a sizable portion of the team’s fan base throughout much of the season.
The No. 10 Trojans either rely too heavily on their passing game, or coach Lane Kiffin is too conservative by calling for running plays in situations that scream for a throw, they insist.
But those critics were largely silenced Saturday. Senior quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 298 yards and six touchdowns to set a school and Pac-12 record for career touchdown passes, as USC (6-1, 4-1) ran past an overwhelmed Colorado team, 50-6.
The Trojans, following a two-year postseason ban, are also bowl eligible for the first time since the 2009 season.
“The sky wasn’t falling,” said Kiffin during his post-game news conference. “Matt can still throw.”
That much was evident. Barkley’s career total for touchdown passes now stands at 102, moving past former USC signal caller Matt Leinart, who had finished with 99 during three seasons from 2003-06.
“It’s special, it’s an honor,” Barkley said. “I’ll take credit, but I mean, I’ve been here for four years so hopefully we put some production up.”
Of his six touchdown tosses, four of them safely landed in the hands of junior wide receiver Robert Woods on plays of 39, 29, 17 and three yards over a span of just two and a half quarters. Barkley’s 17-yard touchdown toss also marked a significant milestone for Woods, his 217th career catch, breaking the school’s all-time receptions record previously held by Dwayne Jarrett.
The third-year wideout finished with eight catches for 132 yards against the Buffaloes (1-6, 1-3).
“I grew up watching all those receivers,” said Woods, whose four touchdown receptions also marked a single-game school record. “As I accomplished what I did today, I don’t see myself above them but a part of an elite group.”
USC, as a group, looked elite as well. And the squad looked fast, perhaps as the result of its use of a no-huddle, quicker-paced offense for much of the contest. Barkley’s first touchdown, a 55-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee over the middle of the field, came after just 50 seconds, on the team’s second play from scrimmage. And by the nine-minute mark of the first quarter, the Trojans already led 19-0, energizing an announced sellout crowd of 83,274 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
On the afternoon, the Trojans would finish with 458 yards of total offense, 340 of them through the air, carving up an inexperienced and rattled secondary. The 50 points were also the highest single-game scoring total of the season.
“I don’t care what pace we actually play at,” Lee said, “as long as we do what we need to do when it’s time to do it.”
But as prolific as USC was offensively, it was again plagued by penalties. Entering the game, the team ranked 124th, dead last, in the Football Bowl Subdivision, in penalties per game with 10. And again, the Trojans were heavily penalized, nine times in fact, for 90 yards, allowing the Buffaloes to keep some of their drives alive.
During the first quarter, on Colorado’s first drive of the game, redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao was called for a personal foul penalty, helping the Buffaloes inch further down field, all the way down to the 21-yard line before quarterback Jordan Webb’s ill-advised throw was intercepted by senior safety Drew McAllister in the end zone.
Later in the half, freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams was also penalized and ejected for punching a player — classified as a flagrant foul that will be subject to review by conference officials, according to a school spokesman. It was not, though, deemed to be “fighting,” which would warrant an automatic suspension.
“We looked really undisciplined,” Kiffin said. “I felt bad for our fans, I felt bad for our former players. It was taking away from a really special day.”
Next weekend, USC travels to Tucson, Ariz., to square off against Arizona. With three of its five remaining games to be played at the Coliseum, it will be the last time the Trojans leave Southern California during the regular season.
“We play one week at a time,” Kiffin said. “We go out of L.A. for the last time this year. We have to get back to work.”