Matt Barkley left the Coliseum on Saturday as the undeniable leader of the USC offense, but the team’s mock game still left the unit with plenty of unanswered questions.
Wide receiver Ronald Johnson broke his collarbone during the scrimmage and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. The injury is the latest blow to an offense that has already seen its starting line reshuffled because of various health concerns.
Johnson was hurt in the first quarter after hauling in a 34-yard pass from Barkley. He attempted to retreat to the sideline after the play, but collapsed to the ground before being helped off by trainers.
“It’s just a crusher,” USC coach Pete Carroll said of the injury.
Johnson was one of the team’s top big-play threats last season after averaging a team-high 17.3 yards per reception. His injury will move David Ausberry into the starting lineup at split end and push Damian Williams back to flanker, where he started last season.
Brice Butler, who led all receivers with 66 yards on four catches, and freshman De’Von Flournoy are also expected to figure into the wide receiver rotation in Johnson’s absence.
“We’ll be OK,” Williams said. “We’ve still got great guys here. We’ve got to keep on pushing, but we’re definitely going to miss him.”
Barkley remained the focus for most throughout the day. Playing in his first scrimmage as the starter, Barkley completed 10 of 17 passes for 159 yards with one touchdown and one interception to help lead USC’s starters to a 36-0 win against the scout team.
The first drive proved tough for the 18-year-old, as a lineman stepped on his leg during the first play, which he salvaged by flipping the ball to Joe McKnight. But on Barkley’s third throw of the day, defensive end Devon Kennard dropped back in coverage and tipped the ball into the air, where freshman defensive back Byron Moore leapt for the interception.
Barkley eventually settled down and connected with Blake Ayles on a short bootleg pass for his lone touchdown through the air.
Carroll said Barkley “missed some chances” and that he had to continue his rapid maturation into the season.
“To think, how could he possibly be a finished product at this point? But we’re kind of expecting it,” Carroll said.
The weight of being the first true freshman tabbed to start an opener at USC was not lost on Barkley.
“It’s a great feeling, but it didn’t change the way I’m approaching anything or how I play the game,” Barkley said. “It’s great to know that everyone is supporting me and coming behind me knowing that I’m the guy.”
Aaron Corp, who entered fall camp as the starting quarterback, played two series and went 5-of-7 passing for 89 yards. The redshirt sophomore showed improved mobility from previous practices, in which the effects of his cracked left fibula were still hampering his scrambling.
Carroll said that his decision to name Barkley the starter would have remained the same if he had held off until after the scrimmage to make his decision, but he was encouraged by Corp’s recovery.
“I said to him a couple days ago, ‘When you finally take off and hook slide, I’ll know you’re ready,’ and he did,” Carroll said. “He kind of gave me a little look, ‘OK,’ which was great. He’s ready to play.”