The USC Trojans came into the season with high hopes in their first season since coming off an NCAA-imposed postseason ban. The Men of Troy had their sights set on a BCS title, but those dreams may have been dashed at The Farm on Saturday, where the high-powered Trojan offense sputtered in a 21-14 loss to the Stanford Cardinal. Head coach Lane Kiffin spared no blame, not even for his star quarterback Matt Barkley.
Barkley, a senior leader and four-year starter at USC, had one of his toughest games ever as a Trojan. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes (20-of-41), threw a pair of interceptions and failed to throw a touchdown pass in a game for the first time since October 2010.
Kiffin questioned the quarterback’s decision-making after the loss, particularly on a pair of plays in the second quarter. With less than two minutes to go in the first half, the Trojans faced a third down and Barkley forced a throw into traffic and had it intercepted by Stanford’s Jordan Richards. The USC defense picked off the ensuing throw, giving the ball back to Barkley, who forced a throw downfield for interceptions on back-to-back passes.
In his Sunday evening press conference call with reporters, Kiffin said “Probably two of his worst decisions in our three years together on back-to-back plays.” But the coach knows it wasn’t just his quarterback at fault.
Kiffin pointed to the poor line play, which led to Barkley getting harassed and knocked down constantly by the Cardinal defense. He was sacked four times on the night and was running for his life on almost every drop back. The offensive line could not contain the Cardinal line and were completely unable to muster a running game to help Barkley out. The Trojans finished the night with just 26 rushing yards.
The loss drops Barkley to 0-4 against Stanford in his career and means that he will never get a win over the “nerds” from Palo Alto unless the two teams meet again in the Pac 12 Championship game in November. That made this loss tougher on Barkley.
The preseason Heisman frontrunner looked shaken after the loss and was on the verge of tears as he gave a brief postgame press conference after the game. Kiffin said of Barkley, “He’s pretty beat up, mentally and physically,” and sympathized with the frustration he is going through. He doesn’t worry about it affecting his play the rest of the way, however, as he said “he’ll be fine. He’ll rally, just like he has before.”
While the Trojans’ BCS hopes and Barkley’s Heisman campaign took major hits on Saturday, the Trojans still have plenty to play for. They are still one of the most talented teams in the country at the skill positions and Barkley remains one of the best quarterbacks in the country. They just have a key weakness in their offensive and defensive line depth that was exposed by Stanford, making the Trojans mortal.
Maybe that realization of mortality will help them. Since fall camp opened, everyone has been telling USC how unbelievably talented they are. Now, someone has punched them in the mouth and reminded them that they have to show up and play the games before they get crowned. Expect Kiffin and his staff to use this loss to fuel the Trojans the rest of the way.
Barkley and USC are far from done this season and now they have something to prove.
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