HONOLULU — The win will be remembered as coach Lane Kiffin’s first victory in
charge of the USC football program.
But the night belonged to sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley.
On a steamy, muggy night in Honolulu, Barkley broke the thermometer.
He was nearly flawless in USC’s (1-0) 49-36 victory over Hawai’i
(0-1), picking apart the Hawaiian defense for 257 yards on 18-for-23
passing and equaling a school record of five touchdowns currently
held by four other players.
“I did not [think this game was going to be high scoring],” Barkley
said. “But sometimes it turns out that way. We had to respond and I’m
proud of the way our guys played.”
Barkley lost 10 pounds since the end of last season and it showed. The
sophomore quarterback was more mobile both in and out of the pocket,
throwing four touchdowns to three different receivers before halftime.
His previous career high was two touchdowns in a game.
But by far, his favorite target was senior receiver Ronald Johnson.
Barkley completed a one-yard touchdown pass to Johnson near the end of
the first quarter to extend the Trojans’ lead to 14-6, and then again
with less than three minutes left in the second quarter to seemingly
put the game out of reach at 27-16. Johnson finished with seven
catches for 59 yards and tied a school record with three receiving
“It all took off during the summer,” Johnson said about his chemistry
with Barkley. “We all went out and catch. That connection kept growing
and growing and growing and it paid off today.”
Yet, Johnson’s most important score came without the assistance of Barkley.
Johnson fielded a punt at USC’s own 11-yard line early in the fourth
quarter, broke a few tackles and sprinted down the right sideline to
put the Trojans up 34-16, which put the nail in the coffin. His
89-yard return was the longest punt return since Curtis Conway
returned a punt 96 yards in 1992, although it appeared as if Johnson
might not return the punt at all with four unblocked Warriors waiting
to hit him once he caught the ball.
“For a minute I’m like, ‘Aw I think I should catch it,’ “Johnson said.
“I felt the guy coming in but I just made a full-speed decision.”
His decision paid off as he eluded the tacklers and found his way to
the end zone.
Not to be forgotten is running back Marc Tyler. The junior got his
first start of his career and didn’t disappoint. He rushed for more
than 100 yards for the first time in his career and finished with 17
carries for 154 yards and a touchdown. It was his last run, a 44-yard
zig-zag through seemingly everyone on the Warrior defense after USC
coach Lane Kiffin pulled the second-string offense to put the
first-string back in, that punctuated the night.
“I was just thinking I know I couldn’t lose yards so I cut it back and
it opened up for me,” Tyler said.
But if there’s anyone who can rain on his own parade, it’s Kiffin.
When asked about how he felt about his first victory, Kiffin replied
with the enthusiasm of Eeyore.
“Not very well because we didn’t do it in the style we want to — [we]
want to be disciplined and tough. I thought we were tough today,
thought we played physical in parts of the game but we weren’t
disciplined so that was disappointing to see,” he said. “Really hoping
to pitch a shutout turnover wise but with the backups in there turned
one over so we’re disappointed in that as well.”
Instead of dwelling on the offensive positives, Kiffin chose to point
out the defensive negatives. USC was actually outgained by Hawaii, 588
yards to 524 yards, and the Trojans committed 11 penalties for 100
yards and missed more tackles than Kiffin cared to count.
“Defensively, we didn’t play well obviously. I’m really disappointed
with everything in general: the late hit on Jurrell, the number of
offsides on the defensive line. Part of it’s my fault on the defensive
side in the second half. I pulled guys early keeping the big picture
in mind with the long season we can’t get guys injured with limited
numbers,” Kiffin said. “We ended up winning the game which is really
good. But as you can see we got some depth concerns and issues. We
need to develop our backup guys.”
Kiffin can take solace knowing that one change he did make turned out
to be positive.
Before the game, Kiffin told Johnson to ditch his favorite black socks
for the white socks the rest of the team was wearing. Kiffin said it
was a 15-minute ordeal but Johnson grudgingly obeyed.
“I think he’ll be wearing white socks the rest of the season,” Kiffin said.
Johnson just got a new catchphrase.
It’s got to be the socks.