As a high school and college quarterback, Lane Kiffin was known more for his football acumen than his passing or footwork.
But USC’s coach showed Tuesday that he knows how to dance in the pocket, especially when pressured to address quarterback Matt Barkley’s status for Saturday night’s game against UCLA.
Barkley was sidelined last week against Notre Dame because of a left ankle sprain.
The sophomore practiced Tuesday, but he was limited.
Asked if he would play against the Bruins, Barkley did not hesitate.
“I plan on it,” he said.
So does Kiffin, apparently, though he scrambled throughout the day when broached about the subject.
Early Tuesday, Kiffin told Times columnist T.J. Simers that despite Barkley’s slight limp, he would play against the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
“He will play,” Kiffin said. “Notice I didn’t say, like I normally do, ‘I hope he’ll play.’”
Later, after Mitch Mustain took the majority of the first-team reps during practice, Kiffin said Barkley threw the ball well and that the staff would continue to push to get him ready for Saturday.
“Hopefully,” Kiffin said.
When reminded that he earlier had said Barkley definitely would play, Kiffin’s tone turned mischievous.
“I said he is? I said that? When?” Kiffin asked, adding, “I said I hope he’s going to play. Or maybe I said I think he’s going to play. So, I hope he’s going to play and I think he’s going to play. But I don’t know for sure [that] he’ll play.”
Ultimately, Kiffin said Barkley’s mobility would be the determining factor and that it might be a game-time decision.
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, however, anticipates that the Bruins will see Barkley, who has passed for 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
“I would expect nothing less,” Neuheisel said.
But what can the Trojans expect from a quarterback who remains hobbled?
Barkley, who wore a brace on his left ankle during practice, has undergone rehab treatments almost nonstop since the Trojans returned from Oregon State, where he was injured at the end of the first half Nov. 20. He said ligaments have healed and that he is basically dealing with a bone bruise. Flexibility and movement, he said, are “all there.”
“It’s just [a matter of] pain threshold,” he said.
Barkley expects that his availability will be determined through a “mutual decision” with Kiffin.
“He trusts me, that I’m not just going to go out there and limp or gimp… and hurt the team,” Barkley said. “This is my team and I feel like do need to be out there with those guys. But at the same time if I’m not going to be the guy best suited for the job, than Mitch can do it.”
Mustain, a fifth-year senior, made his first start for the Trojans in last Saturday’s 20-16 loss to Notre Dame.
He is preparing as if he will start again against the Bruins.
“Matt’s made a lot more progress… but we’ll see how it goes,” Mustain said. “Even then, who knows what’s going to happen in the game if he does go?
“I know playing injured can be tough. They’re going to take shots. I’m going to be prepared.”
Staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.