Barkley set to present his case on big stage
Matt Barkley’s parents stopped by USC on Tuesday to say hello to their son and deliver a small gift on his 19th birthday.
“That’s his present,” his father Les chuckled, pointing to a sandwich in a plastic bag. “Turkey with extra mayo.”
The Barkleys’ no-big-deal attitude is the same one Coach Pete Carroll wants his young quarterback to maintain when the third-ranked Trojans play eighth-ranked Ohio State on Saturday night in Columbus.
It might be easier said than done.
More than 105,000 Buckeyes fans are expected to pack Ohio Stadium to see if Ohio State can avenge last season’s embarrassing 35-3 loss to the Trojans and restore a bit of Big Ten Conference pride.
Much of the crowd’s attention, and noise, will be focused on Barkley.
“Bring it on,” Barkley said after practice. “I’ll imagine they’re all cheering for us.”
Barkley drew raves for his mostly unflappable performance in his Trojans’ debut last Saturday against San Jose State. His 15-for-19 passing performance included a touchdown and, perhaps more important and telling, no interceptions.
“It just kind of solidified that I can do this,” Barkley said.
Carroll and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates maintained before the game that the Trojans would not scale back the playbook or change the offense to accommodate the first true freshman to start an opener at quarterback for the Trojans.
But it was clear after a few series that the play-calling was tailored to make it easy on Barkley and get him through his first start unscathed, physically and emotionally. The strong-armed freshman rarely was asked to throw under pressure from the pocket, instead rolling out for safer throws.
“He threw the ball to the right guy on every route,” Carroll said. “He stayed within the system and utilized all facets of it.”
Center Jeff Byers said Barkley’s “defining moment” came after he was sacked during the Trojans’ third series.
“As a rookie quarterback, you get sacked and kind of get beat up and it’s easy for him to go on the tank,” said Byers, a sixth-year senior. “But he came out and performed perfectly. . . . More important than how he played, his numbers or whatnot, was just how he handled himself.”
Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel watched the tape and was not surprised by the freshman’s performance, mostly because of the experienced linemen and running backs surrounding Barkley.
“The offensive line is perfectly choreographed,” Tressel said, “and all those folks he’s got around him handing it to and throwing it to . . . that is as good of a situation as you can have.”
On Saturday, the Trojans will find themselves in one of the most challenging positions in college football: visiting team at the Horseshoe.
After playing before nearly 85,000 at the Coliseum and practicing with piped-in crowd noise on Tuesday, Barkley proclaimed he was prepared for the all that comes his way at Ohio Stadium -- especially noise.
“It will be a little louder,” he said, “but I’ve got a loud voice.”
Barkley also has a powerful arm. The question is whether the Trojans will unleash it against the Buckeyes.
“If we need to pass the ball a little more, throw a little more downfield, then I’m not afraid to do that,” he said.
In the meantime, he is keeping things simple.
Even on his birthday.
“I had tutoring and class and watched some film,” he said. “Just a normal Tuesday. Nothing special.”
Barkley is saving that for Saturday.
Center Kristofer O’Dowd worked with the first unit during several drills and appears on track to play against Ohio State. O’Dowd is recovering from a dislocated knee cap. If O’Dowd were to start, Byers would move back to left guard. . . . Brian Baucham returned from illness on Monday and is working to try to regain the No. 3 cornerback spot. T.J. Bryant is also competing for the spot. . . . Carroll said starting cornerback Kevin Thomas and starting defensive tackle Jurrell Casey would return to practice today after being absent for two days because of illness.