It was never close, but it may not have been enough to satiate everyone’s appetite.
USC players filtered onto the field and into the tunnel with a business-like approach following their Saturday night victory. The stated mission of walking away with a win had been fulfilled, but plenty of opportunities had been left on the field.
A week after being upset by Washington, the Trojans bounced back with little resistance. The return of Matt Barkley revitalized USC’s offense and helped the Trojans coast to a 27-6 win against Washington State at the Coliseum.
Yet there was still a sense among USC coaches and players that the Trojans, who entered the game as 45.5-point favorites, could have made the game even easier.
“The way I look at this game, we have a lot of work to do,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “It was not at all the satisfying win that we would have liked to have had.”
In his first game back from a bruised right shoulder, Barkley showed few lingering effects of the injury by throwing for 136 yards in the first quarter. Despite still feeling some pain when going through his throwing motion, the true freshman heaved the ball downfield early and often, finishing with 247 yards on 13-of-22 passing with two touchdowns.
“When I had to gun it, I did,” Barkley said. “It hurt a little, but that’s football.”
After the Trojans finished with 110 yards passing last week against the Huskies, the team’s emphasis on attacking downfield was palpable.
“We knew we could stretch them vertically,” Barkley said. “I think we hit what we could when it was there.”
Barkley connected with redshirt freshman wide receiver Brice Butler in the corner of the end zone for his first touchdown. After junior kicker Jacob Harfman recovered the ensuing onside kick, Barkley threw a dart over the middle to redshirt junior wide receiver Damian Williams, who dashed into the end zone untouched for a 57-yard score.
USC’s rushing attack supplemented the passing game with several long runs to start the game. The Trojans needed only 13 carries in the first half to rack up 113 yards.
The offensive momentum established by the Trojans in the early going was thrown off by a season-high 13 penalties for 115 yards. Although Carroll said he took issue with a number of the flagged plays, he admitted that he was not content with the self-imposed mistakes.
“We had so many situations where we made it hard on ourselves,” Carroll said. “We need to keep working on it.”
USC’s defense held its ground for the majority of the four quarters. Redshirt freshman defensive end Nick Perry and redshirt junior linebacker Michael Morgan combined for 4.5 sacks for a defensive unit that applied constant pressure to the opposing quarterbacks.
A week after earning their first win of the season by taking down Southern Methodist, the Cougars’ lone reason for optimism was their ability to stay in the game with a revamped defense.
Redshirt sophomore Marshall Lobbestael started the game at quarterback but was spelled midway through the second quarter by freshman Jeff Tuel. The two signal-callers only could muster 144 passing yards during the night, with a bulk of the production coming in the fourth quarter against USC’s second-string defense.
The Cougars controlled the second quarter with a 19-play drive that ate up more than eight and a half minutes. But despite controlling the ball and going 58 yards downfield, Washington State saw its 34-yard field goal attempt miss wide left as the first half expired.
Late in the fourth quarter, however, the Cougars turned a short field created by a redshirt quarterback Aaron Corp turnover into a touchdown, ending USC’s shutout hopes.
The match was a far cry from the Trojans’ 69-0 drubbing of the Cougars last year in Pullman, Wash. With Saturday’s trip to Cal looming, many Trojans insisted that the team has yet to show its best effort.
“We know what we’re capable of, and I think we showed that tonight,” Barkley said. “But I also think we’re capable of more.”