Matt Barkley’s first throw of his long awaited collegiate debut landed safely in the hands of tight end Anthony McCoy. The only problem, however, was that it went for a 2-yard loss.
But Barkley is not one to dwell on early hiccups. By the end of the game, there was little doubt as to why USC coach Pete Carroll had put so much confidence in him.
Aided by 343 rushing yards from USC’s backfield, the 18-year-old true freshman overcame a slow start to lead the No. 4 Trojans to a 56-3 rout of San Jose State. Barkley passed for 233 yards with no interceptions, and four tailbacks combined to score six touchdowns for USC.
“We just really tried to put it behind us,” Barkley said of a scoreless first quarter in which the Trojans lost two fumbles. “We had a couple bumpy first drives but realized there’s nothing we could do about it. We came out rocking after that.”
Barkley admitted a brief moment of jitters as he stepped onto the field of the Los Angeles Coliseum. But as soon as the game started, he showed how comfortable he was playing in the spotlight.
“It was so much fun to be out there,” he said. “I felt really at home, and I think the guys did a great job of saying, ‘This is you, just be yourself.’”
Carroll was not the only one impressed by Barkley’s performance.
“[Barkley] came to the huddle calm and collected,” said McKnight, who rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns. “He even gave us a couple of pep talks.”
After a disappointing start to the game, USC’s offense started to assert itself in the second quarter.
With the Trojans’ formidable offensive line clearing space up front, Barkley and company marched down the field on their first drive of the quarter. Barkley completed a 10-yard pass to David Ausberry before Stafon Johnson rumbled into the end zone for USC’s first score of the game.
“As we’ve seen so many times over the years, it’s not how you start,” Carroll said. “It’s how you finish. Once the game got going, everything worked in a real positive direction.”
Over the next 10 minutes, three different Trojan tailbacks rushed for touchdowns, putting USC up 28-3. The defense also elevated its play, holding the Spartans in check after giving up 67 yards in the first quarter.
“Tremendous line play really contributed to that,” Carroll said of the Trojans’ success. “Guys did a fantastic job of picking up different looks and stunts and gave guys running room. The running backs took over from there.”
The Trojans picked up right where they left off in the second half. Just three plays into the third quarter, McKnight sliced his way through the Spartan defense on an electrifying 54-yard TD run.
“The offensive line made holes, made great blocks,” McKnight said. “That’s what got me open.”
The Spartans had little success stopping a slew of other Trojan tailbacks. Marc Tyler rushed for 72 yards and a score, Allen Bradford made a 43-yard TD run and Johnson added two scores of his own.
Midway through the quarter, Barkley found Rhett Ellison in the end zone for the only passing touchdown of the game. It was the icing on a nearly flawless performance by the poised freshman, who completed 15 of 19 passes.
“Matt Barkley just absolutely handled this,” Carroll said. “It was no big deal for him. … He had a smile on his face, he loved every minute of it. He’s shown us nothing but that since we’ve been around him.”
Patrick Perry had 48 rushing yards for the Spartans but didn’t receive much help from his teammates. After gaining 67 yards on offense in the first quarter, the Spartans were held to just 54 the rest of the way.
Aaron Corp, who lost the starting job to Barkley just a little over a week ago, took over in the fourth quarter. In the last minutes of the game, he threw a 13-yard TD pass to D.J. Shoemate for the Trojans’ final score.