The story: USC easily handled Washington State, 27-6, but disappointments were abundant.
USC began the game in dramatic fashion, forcing the Cougars into an immediate three-and-out and scoring in just three plays on the offensive end.
But the No. 12 Trojans (3-1) committed 13 penalties, lost two fumbles and converted on only three of nine third-down plays.
And after the Trojans scored twice more to make it a 20-point first quarter, they couldn’t get on the board again until the fourth.
They held Washington State (1-3) scoreless for more than 59 minutes of the game, but the Cougars finally made it into the end zone on a two-yard run by senior running back Dwight Tardy with 22 ticks remaining.
Said senior safety Taylor Mays post-game: “It sucks that they scored at the end.”
Key play: With USC up 13-0 late in the first quarter, junior kicker Jacob Harfman placed a surprise onside kick in perfect position. Harfman recovered his own kick and USC went on to score on the next play with a 57-yard strike from Barkley to redshirt junior receiver Damian Williams. That made the score 20-0, which held until the fourth.
“[The onside kick] was in the game plan this week,” junior center Kristofer O’Dowd said of the play that electrified the Coliseum crowd. “I didn’t think they were gonna do it, but I was pretty excited when I saw it.”
USC coach Pete Carroll said Harfman impressed him. Making his debut at punter, the transfer from Mt. San Antonio averaged 46.3 yards per punt — a full nine yards better than his predecessor, redshirt junior Billy O’Malley.
The return: Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley’s return from a bone bruise in his right shoulder was deemed a success, as the passing game opened up immediately for the Trojans. Barkley finished the day completing 13-of-22 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
“You can see that it hurt USC not having him last week,” Washington State coach Paul Wulff said in his post-game press conference. “For a freshman, he did some good things.”
It took Barkley only a few throws to find his stroke. On his seventh toss of the night, he hit redshirt freshman Brice Butler for a 29-yard touchdown pass. On his eighth, he found Williams for another touchdown.
“From a receiver’s standpoint, we’ve been waiting to go deep,” said redshirt freshman Brice Butler, whose catch was his first-career touchdown reception. “We’ve been hungry for it, and we saw today that we can do it so hopefully we come out every week and do it.”
Most valuable player: Outside linebacker Michael Morgan. The redshirt junior had a game-high 2.5 sacks and five tackles in his fifth career start.
He was chosen to do the post-game press conference with the media, alongside Barkley.
The unassuming Morgan, who traditionally operates out of the spotlight, said it was unusual for him.
“I was more nervous in there than I was on the field,” he said later.
Surprise performer: Redshirt freshman defensive end Nick Perry continued to impress with another two-sack performance. He has now registered six sacks in four games, good for a team-high. The six sacks are the most for a Trojan since Lawrence Jackson’s 10.5 in 2007.
Stat of the game: The first quarter was by far the Trojans’ most productive — in both positive and negative yardage.
USC scored 20 points and produced 195 yards of offense in the first 15 minutes of play, but also lost 75 yards on seven penalties.
“I can’t explain that,” Butler said. “I really don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Quotes of the game: No. 6 Cal’s 42-3 loss earlier in the day to Pac-10 rival Oregon was on many a player’s mind.
With the Trojans set to face the Bears in Berkeley next Saturday, they were looking ahead — and behind, to the loss to Washington last week.
“It does surprise me, but it doesn’t,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris Galippo said. “Because you could say that about the week before up in Seattle. It just so happens that Oregon stepped up this week and beat a good Cal team.”
Added O’Dowd: “It’s a Pac-10 game in the Pac-10 conference. You don’t know what could happen, and we’re an example of that as well.”