In the aftermath of Coach Pete Carroll’s decision to name Matt Barkley USC’s starting quarterback, all eyes were on the freshman’s arm and Aaron Corp’s legs during Saturday’s mock game at the Coliseum.
Barkley impressed at times but showed he still has some growing to do and Corp appeared sound, even sliding after scrambling for a first down.
But any buzz about a quarterback controversy going into the opener against San Jose State was muted some by a broken collarbone suffered by receiver Ronald Johnson.
The junior, who was set to start opposite Damian Williams, was injured after catching a 34-yard pass from Barkley. He is expected to be sidelined at least six weeks.
“It’s just a crusher,” Carroll said.
Junior David Ausberry moves into the starting lineup and redshirt freshman Brice Butler is expected to join the receiver rotation.
The loss of Johnson, coupled with the absence of starting center Kristofer O’Dowd, who is recovering from a dislocated kneecap, puts added pressure on 18-year-old Barkley, the first true freshman to start an opener at quarterback for the Trojans.
On Saturday, Barkley completed 10 of 17 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown with one interception against the scout-team defense. It was the third time in four scrimmages that Barkley had a pass intercepted.
“There were a couple plays, one or two, you wish you could have back, but overall I thought the offense did a great job of moving the ball,” he said.
Barkley finished four preseason scrimmages 32 for 65 for 444 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
His third pass on Saturday was intercepted by freshman defensive back Byron Moore after freshman end Devon Kennard dropped into coverage and tipped a ball intended for Williams.
Barkley came back to lead scoring drives that culminated with two short touchdown runs by Stafon Johnson, a sneak by Barkley and a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blake Ayles.
Carroll said he thought Barkley “missed a couple chances.”
“I think he’s still coming, still growing at the position,” Carroll said. “To think, how could he possibly be a finished product at this point? But we’re kind of expecting it. . . . He could be better.”
Corp, the No. 1 quarterback going into training camp, played two second-half series and looked much as he did before suffering a cracked left fibula on Aug. 10.
The third-year sophomore completed five of seven passes for 89 yards and directed a 75-yard scoring drive that featured his 12-yard scramble up the middle and slide to safety.
“I said to him a couple days ago, ‘When you finally take off and hook slide, I’ll know that you’re ready,’ and he did,” Carroll said. “He kind of gave me a little look, ‘OK,’ which was great. He’s ready to play.”
But Corp, who said he was “close” to 100%, remains the backup.
Asked if he thought Carroll’s decision to go with Barkley would have been different if the coach had waited until after the mock game, Corp said, “Maybe. I don’t know. It definitely would have probably given them more to think about, but I don’t know if it would have been different or not.”
Carroll said waiting would not have changed his decision.
So the Trojans move into game week with Barkley at the controls.
“It’s a great feeling,” Barkley said of playing the mock game as the starter. “It didn’t change the way I’m approaching anything or playing the game, but it is great to know that everyone else on the team now knows that and is supporting me, and they’re coming behind me knowing that I’m the guy.”
Shareece Wright’s knee continues to bother him and his academic eligibility is still up in the air, so Josh Pinkard moved from safety to cornerback and Will Harris started at safety.
Pinkard, a sixth-year senior, began his career as a safety but started 11 games at cornerback last season. Harris started four games in 2008 after Kevin Ellison suffered a knee injury.
“Will had the best fall camp of any of the safeties . . . he deserves to get that play time and Josh needs to be on the field,” Carroll said. Carroll said Wright’s status would be determined this week.
Quarterback Mitch Mustain did not attend the mock game because of flu. Mustain was absent from Thursday’s practice because of illness, but he attended Friday’s walk-through. . . . The Trojans’ defense recorded a safety when linebacker Jordan Campbell tackled tailback Curtis McNeal in the end zone. It was the second time in the last two scrimmages that McNeal was tackled for a safety. . . . Cornerbacks Kevin Thomas and T.J. Bryant and safety Drew McAllister intercepted passes by scout-team quarterback Garrett Green, who was three for 14 for 55 yards but hindered by multiple dropped passes.