Trojans’ Matt Barkley can expect a swarming trend

Things have changed a bit since Pete Carroll made his USC coaching debut against the Spartans in 2001, a game that drew fewer than 46,000 die-hards and curiosity seekers. Today, a crowd of more than 90,000 is expected as USC begins its drive for a spot in the Jan. 7 Bowl Championship Series title game. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key issues and matchups when the Trojans play the Spartans:

Quarterback quandary

Pete Carroll knocked the college football world off its axis last week when he announced that first-year freshman Matt Barkley would start at quarterback.

Three days before his 19th birthday, Barkley becomes the first true freshman to start an opener under center for the Trojans. And he will do it against a team coached by Dick Tomey, the man who oversaw Arizona’s famed “Desert Swarm” defense of the 1990s.


Unlike Carroll, Tomey was in no hurry to name a starting quarterback.

Senior Kyle Reed and junior Jordan LaSecla both are expected to play today against a defense that features an experienced secondary led by All-American safety Taylor Mays.

“We just haven’t scrimmaged enough to really know who is going to take a shot in the nose and bounce up and complete a ball,” Tomey said.

Reed started eight games last season and completed 64% of his passes for 1,563 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for four touchdowns.

LaSecla, who played at Newbury Park High, completed two of three passes with an interception.

First of all

USC is 1-1 when a true freshman makes his first start.

In 1991, Rob Johnson committed four turnovers in a 31-14 loss against a Tomey-coached Arizona team at Tucson. Johnson lost two fumbles and had two passes intercepted, one returned for a touchdown. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 114 yards with a touchdown.

In 1998, Carson Palmer completed 18 of 31 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a 33-10 victory over Washington.

In a rush

With an inexperienced quarterback at the helm, Trojans tailbacks are quietly celebrating in anticipation of an approach that produces more carries.

Joe McKnight ends C.J. Gable’s streak of starting three straight openers, but USC fans can also expect to see Allen Bradford actually carrying the ball. The junior from Colton has been running with power and purpose from the first day of training camp.

Senior Stafon Johnson? Still the Trojans’ most dependable and productive back.

All of the tailbacks say they are on board with being part of a rotation. We’ll see.

Fine line

USC’s offensive line gets a chance to show it’s as good as advertised, despite the absence of center Kristofer O’Dowd, who plans to return from a kneecap injury next week at Ohio State.

Tackles Charles Brown and Tyron Smith, guards Alex Parsons and Butch Lewis and center Jeff Byers must protect Barkley and pave the way for the tailbacks.

San Jose State’s front on defense is led by end Carl Ihenacho, tackle Adonis Davis and linebacker Travis Jones. Duke Ihenacho, Carl’s younger brother, is an all-conference safety.

Tangible benefits

San Jose will take home at least $550,000 for playing today’s game. Win or lose, the Spartans also stand to profit from the exposure to Los Angeles area high school and junior college players.

In April, two former San Jose State players with Southern California ties were selected in the third round of the NFL draft: Jarron Gilbert, a defensive tackle from Chino High, was taken by the Chicago Bears; Christopher Owens, a cornerback from Dorsey High, went to the Atlanta Falcons.

“The Trojans and Bruins can’t get them all,” said Tomey, who has 40 players from the Southland on his roster. “They are going to miss them and some are going to develop after they leave to an extent that was not imaginable at that time.”

By the numbers

*--* (2008 averages) USC CATEGORY SJS 37.5 Scoring 18.7 9.0 Points given up 21.6 259.9 Passing offense 196.2 194.9 Rushing offense 86.7 454.7 Total offense 282.8 134.4 Passing defense 170.3 87.4 Rushing defense 141.4 221.8 Total defense 311.7 *--*