Senior quarterback Mitch Mustain took most of the first-team reps at practice on Tuesday, but it was the player who stood on the sidelines most of the time that garnered the most attention.
As USC prepares to play its last game of the season against UCLA on Saturday, all eyes are on sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley.
More specifically, his left ankle.
Barkley was in uniform and limited in practice Tuesday. He is battling a high-ankle sprain he suffered before halftime in the Oregon State game two weeks ago and didn’t play at all against Notre Dame.
After USC’s loss to the Fighting Irish, however, Barkley said there was no doubt he would play this week and remained equally optimistic on Tuesday.
“That’s the mindset you got to have,” Barkley said. “I think it’s a little more probable [playing] this week but I’m definitely anticipating being back in.”
USC coach Lane Kiffin said Barkley threw the ball well in his limited snaps on Tuesday but needs to show that he can move around unhindered by his ankle for him to start Saturday.
“I hope he’s going to play, I think he’s going to play, but I don’t know for sure if he’s going to play,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to go throughout the week and it’ll probably be a gametime decision.”
Barkley wore a thin brace on his left ankle on Tuesday, but said it doesn’t inhibit him at all and only prevents the movement that injured his ankle. He said his ligaments are healed for the most part.
“Pain scale is the only thing I’m dealing with right now,” Barkley said. “The injury itself is pretty healed up, pretty quick, which I’m happy about. All the rehab I’ve been doing paid off. So it’s just really a bone bruise which I’m trying to get rid of and ease the pain off that. It’s hard in practice to get your mind off it when that’s the only thing you’re dealing with, but in a game when your adrenaline is pumping through your veins you don’t really think about it.”
Barkley has started at quarterback every game this year except last week and hopes he can finish the way he started.
“This is my team. I feel like I need to be out there with those guys,” Barkley said. “But at the same time, if I’m not going to be ready for the job Mitch can definitely handle it.”
Walk-on sophomore Tony Burnett received most of the first-team reps at safety Tuesday. Starting sophomore safety T.J. McDonald was not in uniform and had a sling over his right shoulder which he separated against Notre Dame, and fellow starting sophomore Jawanza Starling was limited with an injury that kept him out of the last game.
Burnett came in for McDonald last game and Kiffin said he was impressed with his play.
“For a guy who really hasn’t played that much football for a long time, just really played on special teams for the most part this year, he did well,” Kiffin said.