It’s too soon to crown Barkley
As a USC fan, it was alarming.
When freshman quarterback Matt Barkley approached the huddle before the Trojans went for the two-point conversion late Saturday night, ESPN announcer Brent Musburger added a little bit of bravado to the already tense situation.
“Right before your eyes, you’re watching a freshman grow up tonight, before a record-setting crowd in Columbus, Ohio,” Musburger said.
His partner in the booth, Kirk Herbstreit, went even further.
“Matt Barkley is going to go on to have a great career, but Brent, I think we’re always going to look back on his growth and maturation on that drive,” Herbstreit said when Ohio State turned the ball over on downs with 21 seconds remaining. “That drive that saved USC’s season and got them a huge win on the road.”
What? Maybe I’m crazy, but for most of the game, I was nervous about Barkley. And nervous as I should be, watching a 19-year-old quarterback make his second career start in an incredibly hostile environment.
And don’t get me wrong — I was impressed by Barkley’s poise on that final drive. I really was.
He did what he was asked to do and managed the Trojans to a come-from-behind victory over the No. 8 team in the nation, no easy task.
But to say that he is now a certifiable star? To say that he has officially come of age?
Come on: He completed 15 of 31 of his passes in the game — 48 percent, which would’ve been good for ninth in the Pac-10 last season — and some of the misses were glaring.
Remember that interception?
He bootlegged and saw a minute opening and then delivered an ill-advised, across-the-body pass to tight end senior Anthony McCoy that was picked off by Ohio State’s linebacker Ross Homan.
He has made that very mistake at least five times in practice this year. You wouldn’t see a fully matured quarterback make that throw unless he’s Brett Favre.
What about the overthrows? Nearly every time the Buckeye defensive line put significant pressure on him, Barkley missed his target.
And tell me, please, how exactly he grew up during “The Drive.”
Was it the swing route to junior running back Joe McKnight that aged him so? It was a glorified run play that McKnight turned into a big gain.
Or the nine-yard out to redshirt junior wide receiver Damian Williams? We all know that every quarterback on the team could’ve made that throw.
The QB sneaks? Nice, but are they really what makes a quarterback a star?
No. Let’s be frank: Barkley made one exceptional throw — the 26-yard missile to McCoy that sliced through double coverage. It was a great throw on first down that moved the chains.
Nice? Yes. Worthy of anointing that as “The Drive?”
Most certainly not.
Barkley had a good performance — nothing more. If Mark Sanchez had stayed for his senior season and completed 15-of-31 for 195 yards against the Buckeyes, his head would’ve been called for on a stick.
This whole idea, this whole construct of Barkley being the next King of Troy, can be traced down to one thing: the national media.
As soon as Barkley was named the starter in August, national columnists flocked to Howard Jones Field for interviews with the precocious then-18-year-old.
Since then, you can find a new article pretty much every day about the awe-inspiring freshman in Los Angeles.
Take a look at a couple articles after Saturday’s game:
The Associated Press’ first paragraph: “Two games into his college football career, 19-year-old quarterback Matt Barkley already has a place in Southern California lore.”
Even the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s headline was, “Young Barkley comes of age in victory.”
They have to take the extreme version of one side or the other to attract views and readers, so there’s this exaggerated view of Barkley’s performance that goes out to the general public. In reality, I’d argue that his performance was typical of a phenom’s: flashes of greatness but spots of immaturity as well.
Don’t get me wrong — I think Barkley will be the best in the nation by his junior season. And I definitely won’t be surprised if he makes it big at the next level. But to say that path is already guaranteed for him?
It’s way too early to do anything of the sort.
“Looking Past the X’s & O’s” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Pedro at [email protected].