USC coach Lane Kiffin and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian are not the only ones garnering attention heading into Saturday’s game between the No. 18 Trojans and Huskies. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley, as with Kiffin and Sarkisian, has been examined more than usual after breaking the school record for most touchdown passes in a single game with six at Colorado.
With three games remaining for USC, there has been much discussion about the possibility of Barkley leaving for the NFL draft next April. Barkley insists, however, his top priority is finishing the year on a high note.
“I want to finish this season out with a bang so that decision is an easy decision,” Barkley said. “We still have three games left and come December I’ll have a lot of time to think about it.”
In his last four games against California, Notre Dame, Stanford and Colorado — three of them being on the road — Barkley has thrown for 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. USC’s offense also seems to be clicking at the right time in both the running game and passing game, averaging almost 38 points per game over that four-game span.
“[Barkley] has been playing the same all year,” Kiffin said. “Now these pieces around him are coming into place and are being more consistent; that’s why we are seeing the better numbers.”
Though Barkley’s strong play has furthered the Trojans’ recent offensive success as of late, he is not receiving much consideration for the Heisman Trophy award. Kiffin is not surprised by the play of his signal caller in recent weeks and his progress as a player has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“He’s continuing to develop and is playing at a high level,” Kiffin said. “I have said before that he would be in the Heisman race if there were things that [weren’t] out of his control.”
Though Barkley tossed six touchdown passes Friday, he believes that some improvements can be made.
“I think it is just timing with our wide-outs,” Barkley said. “It’s kind of hard because they don’t always go full speed out here [at practice].”
Barkley’s top target, sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods has been suffering from an ankle injury this season. Barkley connected with Woods for two touchdown passes Friday against Colorado.
The timing between Barkley and freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee seems to be all right as well after the first-year wideout notched his first two-touchdown game of the season against Colorado. It was his seventh touchdown in his last seven games.
With Sarkisian on the opposite sideline Saturday, many USC players not only are familiar with the former coach, but his coaching style.
“They are a physical team with a similar defensive style to what we play here at USC,” Barkley said. “Most importantly, we have to stick to our game plan and play Trojan football.”
Last year, the Trojans lost to the Huskies on a last-minute field goal.
Two years ago it was the same situation. A late-minute field goal by kicker Eric Folk did USC in. Washington has won the last two meetings, and the players understand the importance of Saturday’s game.
“We’re looking forward to it and we’re seeking revenge in this game,” sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. “It was heartbreaking for us, but we’re looking to come back harder.”
All of the players, however, are not entirely focused on the revenge factor.
“Nothing last year, will help us win this year,” Barkley said. “We’re a completely different team than we were last year and none of that sour taste is still in my mouth.”
With an extra day of practice this week, USC seeks to maintain its momentum from its recent play.
“Getting that extra preparation in and extra hours means a lot to us,” Robey said. “It’s mainly about keeping our mind clear and having the team staying focused, having everyone coming out and playing the hardest they can.”
Junior safety Jawanza Starling, redshirt freshman linebacker Dion Bailey, freshman tailback George Farmer, senior tailback Marc Tyler, redshirt freshman linebacker Hayes Pullard, Lee and Woods were all limited in practice.
Senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris and senior offensive tackle Martin Coleman did not practice.