USC’s offense has remained a point of contention for a sizable portion of the team’s fan base throughout much of the season.
The No. 10 Trojans either rely too heavily on their passing game, or coach Lane Kiffin is too conservative by calling for running plays in situations that scream for a throw, the critics insist.
But they were largely silenced Saturday. Senior quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 298 yards and six touchdowns to set a school and Pac-12 record for career touchdown passes, as USC (6-1, 4-1) ran past an overwhelmed Colorado team, 50-6.
With the victory, the Trojans, following a two-year postseason ban, are also bowl eligible for the first time since the 2009 season.
“The sky wasn’t falling,” said Kiffin during his post-game news conference. “Matt can still throw. He’s pretty good.”
That much was evident. Barkley’s career total for touchdown passes now stands at 102, moving past former USC signal caller and 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, who had thrown for 99 during three seasons from 2003-06. Finishing 19 of 20, Barkley’s 95 percent completion rate also broke the conference record, previously held by former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel.
“It’s special, it’s an honor,” Barkley said. “I’ll take credit, but I mean, I’ve been here for four years so hopefully we put some production up.”
Of his six touchdown tosses, four of them safely landed in the hands of junior wide receiver Robert Woods on plays of 39, 29, 17 and three yards over a span of just 2 1/2 quarters. Barkley’s 17-yard touchdown toss also marked a significant milestone for Woods, his 217th career catch, breaking the school’s all-time receptions record previously held by Dwayne Jarrett.
The third-year wideout finished with eight catches for 132 yards against the Buffaloes (1-6, 1-3).
“I grew up watching all those receivers ever since I understood USC football,” said Woods, whose four touchdown receptions also marked a single-game school record. “As I accomplished what I did today, I don’t see myself above them, I just see myself being a part of them as an elite group. I just want to follow in their footsteps, to be a great receiver at USC.”
USC, as a group, looked elite as well. And the squad looked fast, perhaps as the result of its use of a no-huddle, quicker-paced offense for much of the contest.
Barkley’s first touchdown, a 55-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee, went over the middle of the field on the team’s second play from scrimmage just 50 seconds into the game. And by the nine-minute mark of the first quarter, the Trojans already led 19-0, energizing an announced sellout crowd of 83,274 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
On the afternoon, the Trojans would finish with 458 yards of total offense, with 340 of them through the air, carving up an inexperienced and rattled secondary. The 50 points were also the highest single-game scoring total of the season.
“I don’t care what pace we actually play at,” said Lee, who finished with six catches for 103 yards and one touchdown, “as long as we do what we need to do when it’s time to do it.”
But as prolific as USC was offensively, it was again plagued by penalties. Entering the game, the team ranked 124th — dead last, in the Football Bowl Subdivision — in penalties per game with 10. On Saturday, the Trojans were penalized nine times for 90 yards, allowing the Buffaloes to keep some of their drives alive.
During the first quarter, on Colorado’s first drive of the game, redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao was called for a personal foul penalty, helping the Buffaloes inch further downfield all the way to the 21-yard line before an ill-advised throw by quarterback Jordan Webb was intercepted by senior safety Drew McAllister in the end zone. On the day, USC forced six turnovers, including two other interceptions and three recovered fumbles.
Later in the half, freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams was penalized and subsequently ejected for punching a Colorado offensive player — classified as a flagrant foul that will be subject to review by conference officials, according to a school spokesman. It was not, though, deemed “fighting,” which would warrant an automatic suspension.
Though replays failed to establish what prompted Williams’ punch, teammates said Williams claimed he was spat on. The penalties and Williams’ outburst prompted Kiffin to lecture his team on discipline before the Trojans retreated to the locker room for halftime.
“We looked really undisciplined,” Kiffin said. “I felt bad for our fans, I felt bad for our former players. It was taking away from a really special day.”
Next weekend, USC travels to Tucson to square off against Arizona. With three of its five remaining games to be played at the Coliseum, it will be the last time the Trojans leave Southern California during the regular season.
“We play one week at a time,” Kiffin said. “We go out of L.A. for the last time this year. We have to get back to work.”