USC quarterback Matt Barkley scrambles from the pocket before being tackled… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Matt Barkley engineered a game-winning drive at Ohio State early in the season, but the freshman could not muster similar magic in Saturday's 21-17 loss to Arizona in the regular-season finale at the Coliseum.
When USC got the ball with just over three minutes left, Coach Pete Carroll said he told Barkley, "This is a great opportunity. I can't wait to watch you do it."
Barkley, however, was sacked on first down and three passes fell incomplete.
After Arizona turned the ball over on downs, the Trojans had one final opportunity with three seconds left. Barkley, however, was sacked for the third time as time expired.
It was a tough ending to a game that also started badly.
On USC's second play, Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade intercepted a Barkley pass that bounced off receiver Damian Williams' hands.
The Wildcats capitalized on the turnover when quarterback Nick Foles threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Delashaun Dean for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Barkley completed 20 of 37 passes for 144 yards, including a score-tying 16-yard touchdown to receiver Ronald Johnson.
Barkley has passed for 13 touchdowns with 12 interceptions this season.
"There have been a lot of lessons learned this year," Barkley said. "A lot I can take into this off-season and a lot I can take into next season."
Williams, a fourth-year junior, said Barkley "played a hell of a season. He did almost everything we asked him to do."
Carroll says he expects Barkley to make big strides in 2010.
"Your rookie year to your second year is always the one where you can make the biggest jumps, particularly for this position," Carroll said.
USC tailback Joe McKnight rushed for 35 yards in nine carries, giving him 1,014 yards for the season.
McKnight is the 26th USC player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, the first since Reggie Bush and LenDale White did it in 2005.
McKnight sat with a towel over his head after the game and declined to speak to reporters.
The Trojans went to a no-huddle offense in their second series and picked up two first downs before the drive stalled at Arizona's 40-yard line.
But USC thereafter reverted to its usual offense.
"It worked well enough for us to get in the lead," Carroll said of the standard offense. "It was a day for the defense to win the football game and we didn't get that done."
Arizona outgained USC, 321 yards to 282.
"We haven't turned the corner in anything," Carroll said of the offense. "We haven't gotten over the hump. I didn't see it on defense either."
Carroll does not prefer losing as a learning experience.
"That's not the way we want to learn," he said. "I look for the positive in a lot of stuff, but I don't look for it in losing."
Arizona Coach Mike Stoops praised his team for earning a Holiday Bowl bid.
"The kids understood what was at stake and did what they did all year," he said. "We've not wavered from who we are.
"I don't know if we have the best players, but we are awfully good if we are balanced."
Seantrel Henderson, a 6-foot-8, 337-pound offensive lineman from Minnesota who is regarded as one of the top prospects in nation, was among the recruits attending the game. . . . USC linebacker Malcolm Smith, who had 15 tackles last week against UCLA, had a team-best 10 against Arizona. . . . Safety Will Harris intercepted his fourth pass of the season in the second quarter. No USC player has had more than four interceptions since linebacker Matt Grootegoed had five in 2004.