What we learned about USC in opener

The official San Jose State football website sported this headline postgame Saturday and for much of Sunday: “Spartans Score First; USC Wins, 56-3.”

Really? Talk about a misleading headline.

Your opponent scored eight straight touchdowns and you point out your measly field goal?

Bold choice.

Apart from that ridiculousness, there are a few things USC can take away from last Saturday’s beatdown and what they could mean for this Saturday’s showdown.

Three, actually.

One for each point SJSU scored.

1. Did you see the Trojan linebackers?

The USC defense is not going to have trouble against Terrelle Pryor.

Redshirt junior Michael Morgan, redshirt sophomore Chris Galippo and junior Malcolm Smith — with one career start between them — absolutely roamed the field. Save a 25-yard run by Spartan running back redshirt senior Patrick Perry in the first quarter, Galippo and Co. were not giving up anything.

Counting sacks, San Jose State averaged 0.3 yards per carry.

Pryor has electrifying speed and all, but so do Morgan and Smith. In fact, I’d bet that Morgan is faster than Pryor.

Morgan ran a 4.47 last year, by the way.

So you’re telling me that Pryor — who rushed for one first down and fumbled near his own end zone against a Navy defense that doesn’t boast nearly the same type of athletes as USC does — is really going to challenge the Trojan linebackers?

I don’t see it.

2. What might be a problem, though, is the leash Pete Carroll has on Matt Barkley.

No, really: Count how many times Barkley threw a pass Saturday that you would rate above a five on a one-to-10 degree-of-difficulty scale.

I’m not saying Barkley didn’t do his job — in fact, I don’t think he could have done much better with what he was given. I’m saying that he wasn’t given a chance to do much at all.

And to that I ask, why not?

The game was a blowout. The outcome was certain by halftime. Why not have Barkley air it out in the third quarter?

On USC’s first series of the second half, Barkley did come up throwing.

Two checkdowns to redshirt junior Stanley Havili, two admittedly nice passes that senior Anthony McCoy and junior Joe McKnight turned into big gainers and a couple solid reads that resulted in a touchdown.

He threw just twice more the rest of the day.

For a true freshman who turned 19 yesterday, I would think he needed a bit more experience to be truly ready for Ohio State.

During Barkley’s most successful series Saturday, there were roughly 60,000 people left at the Coliseum and the decibel level was entirely reasonable.

For the first snap this Saturday, there will be roughly 105,000 fans — many of them hostile — crowding the Horseshoe for the stadium’s ninth night game in its history.

If you watch Monday Night Football, you know things are just little crazier in football stadiums at night.

You can look at it two ways: Either USC coach Pete Carroll saw enough from Barkley in practice and in 19 game-situation throws to be confident in his ability to handle the pressure in Columbus, or this could get ugly.

The only defense of Ohio State’s caliber that Barkley has faced in his life has been USC’s own — and, by the time he was named the starter at quarterback, he’d seen just about every coverage scheme they had to offer.

Still, no matter how much film he watches, the Buckeyes will throw things at him he’s not expecting.

I trust Barkley — who has the arm and mind to make just about every throw imaginable — to step it up against a superior opponent. Does Carroll?

3. Still, if I’m Carroll, what I’m most nervous for on Saturday is special teams play.

Take a look at Monday’s Florida State­­—Miami game for an example of a kicker costing a team a game: The Seminoles’ Dustin Hopkins, a freshman, missed an extra point in the third quarter that ended up being pretty crucial to Miami’s 38-34 victory.

For USC, the only real minus against San Jose State was the punting of Billy O’Malley. O’Malley averaged only 34.7 yards per punt and absolutely shanked a 24-yarder in the first quarter that directly led to San Jose State’s only three points.

Ohio State’s Ray Small ranked in the nation’s top 10 in punt return average last season.

Unless O’Malley shows a stronger leg this week in practice, I’m having junior Jake Harfman do the punting Saturday. Harfman, a kicker/punter in high school and junior college, has been relegated to kickoff duties so far because of a lengthy release. Still, he averaged 68 yards on his kickoffs against San Jose State. The Trojans can’t afford to throw away what could easily be five to 10 yards on every punt.

As a USC fan, I do trust Carroll to do all in his power to make the necessary adjustments for the Buckeyes. Two of them: Let Barkley go a little bit, and let Harfman punt.

“Looking Past the X’s & O’s” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Pedro at pmoura@usc.edu.