The set-up: After an offseason marked by NCAA sanctions, coaching
changes and transfers, USC coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojan football
team travelled to Hawaii looking to provide some sought-after answers
to the many questions surrounding the program.
The story: The game Thursday night in Hawaii was record-breaking in
just about every way imaginable. Whether breaking those records is a
good thing or not simply depends on what side of the ball you look at
—USC’s offense or defense.
If there were any concerns coming into Thursday’s game about whether
or not the Trojan offense would be able to regain its effectiveness
after a disappointing 2009 season, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley
erased them completely. Leading a young squad, Barkley had a memorable
night, throwing for five touchdowns on 18-of-23 passing while racking
up 257 yards against a Hawai’i defense that seemed stretched out and
befuddled all game.
“To have [the passing game] finally go in a game like this is very
satisfying,” Barkley said. “I knew how prepared we were. From all the
work that we put in, I knew we were going to do great tonight.”
Barkley’s five-touchdown feat groups him with Rodney Peete, Carson
Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez as the only USC quarterbacks to
do so in a single game. Barkley had never thrown for more than two
touchdown passes in a game prior to Thursday, and his season touchdown
total after one game this year is already one-third of what it was in
The main recipient of those touchdown passes, senior wide receiver
Ronald Johnson, followed suit in breaking records — his three
receiving scores tied him for the most ever in a single game by a USC
player. Johnson also returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown, the
longest return since Curtis Conway’s 96-yard score in 1992.
“I was out there in the zone,” Johnson said. “Me and the guys were
talking back and forth. They kept encouraging me, and it came. It’s a
team thing and we came together as a team.”
Unfortunately for USC, the Trojan defense was notable for entirely
In defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s first opportunity to showcase
his defensive system, the widely inexperienced bunch had trouble
handling Hawaii’s pistol offense, allowing 588 yards — the most since
the 613 allowed against Oregon in 2009 — and 36 points, the most a USC
team has ever allowed against Hawai’i.
Sign of greatness: Junior tailback Marc Tyler — starting for the first
time in his career — showcased some of his ability in a spectacular
44-yard touchdown run, in which he used an early cutback to turn a
potential loss of yards into a game-breaking score.
Going for two: USC’s conversion attempts were anything but ordinary
Thursday night, as the Trojans attempted four two-point conversions —
two taken by Barkley and two taken by senior quarterback Mitch
Mustain. Perhaps the strangest element to the tactic was the use of
the swinging gate formation, in which the field goal kicking team
spread the field wide in hopes of creating a mismatch. On one
occasion, the unit reformed into a field goal formation and simply
kicked the extra point.
“When our special teams didn’t make [the first two point conversion
attempt], that put us in position to keep going for it,” Kiffin said.
“Then we thought we had some good plays lined up [for the conversion
attempt] and kept going with that for a while. When the score was a
certain number, we went back to extra points.”