A big test in a big stadium did nothing to slow down Matt Barkley.
The freshman kept the pressure on in USC’s quarterback competition, passing for three touchdowns Saturday in a scrimmage at the Coliseum.
“I’m confident in how I’m playing right now,” Barkley said.
After eight practices, the former Santa Ana Mater Dei High star is handling just about everything Coach Pete Carroll and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates have thrown at him.
And while scrimmage statistics can often be misleading because of situational set-ups and lineup shuffling, Barkley mostly looked like a seasoned veteran while completing 10 of 13 passes for 195 yards.
Barkley did have a pass intercepted for the second time in as many scrimmages, and the offense almost lost a fumble when Barkley failed to tuck the ball away after deciding not to throw.
But Carroll did not seem overly concerned about the miscues.
“He just continues to be comfortable in a situation where most guys have never been able to be this comfortable this early, so it’s giving him a chance to compete for the job,” Carroll said.
Third-year sophomore Aaron Corp has held a slight lead in the competition since the start of spring practice. But with two weeks left, Barkley appears to be closing the gap while perhaps distancing himself from junior Mitch Mustain.
Barkley connected on a 15-yard touchdown pass to fullback Stanley Havili, receiver Travon Patterson turned a 15-yard pass into a 60-yard scoring play and Barkley hooked up with receiver Damian Williams for an eight-yard touchdown.
Corp led three scoring drives and again avoided committing a turnover during the 87-play scrimmage. Corp, who has not had a pass intercepted this spring, was eight for 15 for 146 yards, including a 15-yard completion that receiver Ronald Johnson turned into a 61-yard touchdown on the final play.
“It seemed like it was hit or miss the whole day, just kind of hard for me to get into a rhythm,” Corp said. “I did some good things and then at times the offense, when I was in, sputtered.”
Mustain, who started the scrimmage with the first unit, also struggled to find a rhythm.
He completed seven of 10 passes for 42 yards, and his final attempt was intercepted by cornerback Marshall Jones when receiver Jordan Cameron fell.
“I think I maxed out what I was given and avoided any glaring errors,” Mustain said.
With nearly all of the tailbacks nursing injuries, freshman Curtis McNeal took advantage of the opportunity and had 101 yards in 13 carries.