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USC FOOTBALL

USC's Matt Barkley wants to get the shine back

Having struggled of late, Barkley is no longer considered the Pac-10's top freshman quarterback, a designation now given to Stanford's Oliver Luck. But it's a very crowded field, both in the conference and nationally.

November 11, 2009|Gary Klein

Matt Barkley stood in the pocket and took the hit.

Surrounded by reporters Tuesday after practice, USC's freshman quarterback never flinched when blitzed with questions about his recent struggles.

"I'll take the responsibility for that and for the offense because it does start with the quarterback," he said.

As the Trojans begin the final quarter of their schedule, Barkley is hoping to recapture the efficiency that mostly characterized his play in the first half of the season.

On Saturday at the Coliseum, the 11th-ranked Trojans face No. 25 Stanford, which features its own phenom at quarterback: Andrew Luck.

Barkley, a true freshman, and Luck, a redshirt freshman, are two of several young quarterbacks leading teams in the Pacific 10 Conference.

UCLA's Kevin Prince is a redshirt freshman, Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Arizona State's Brock Osweiler true freshmen.

"There are some quarterbacks playing and doing well that we didn't think we were going to play," USC Coach Pete Carroll said during his weekly news conference. "We've probably changed the dimensions of expectations for young quarterbacks being able to come in and be big factors right off the bat."

Barkley was 6-0 as a starter and helped win games at Ohio State, California and Notre Dame before suffering his first defeat two weeks ago at Oregon.

In eight games, he's completed 57% of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

"I've done all right," he said when asked to assess his play. "I didn't really know how it would pan out coming into the season. . . . I'm not going to grade myself. I don't really know what I'd give myself but I think I'm playing all right."

Barkley, however, struggled at Arizona State after doing the same in the second half at Oregon.

In the last six quarters, he has completed only 12 of 38 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions. The USC offense has scored only 10 points during the span.

Carroll said this week that he was "not worried about it a bit."

On Tuesday, Barkley also sounded unconcerned while refusing to blame injuries or a rigorous road schedule for the struggles.

He focused instead on "corrections" the Trojans were making in practice to help the offense get back on track.

"We're confident this week we're going to get a complete game and really finish strong," he said.

The Trojans probably will need a solid offensive effort to keep pace with Stanford, which is led by bruising tailback Toby Gerhart, the nation's second-leading rusher.

Then there is Luck.

Last month, Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh said the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Luck was "the best quarterback in the country." And that was before he passed for 251 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in the Cardinal's 51-42 victory over Oregon.

Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, has completed 58% of his attempts, with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in nine games. He leads the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.

He is also the Cardinal's second-leading rusher, averaging 5.7 yards a carry.

"He's as good right now as anybody we've faced," Carroll said. "And [it's] really because they've gone with it and they've allowed him to really come out and go for it.

"And when you add their running dimension with that kind of passing attack, it really makes it a challenging offense."

Harbaugh said Tuesday that Luck benefited from redshirting last season while senior Tavita Pritchard started at quarterback.

"We thought the best thing for our football team was to play Tavita," Harbaugh said.

That was the right call two years ago, when Pritchard made his first start and led the Cardinal, as a 41-point underdog, to a 24-23 victory over USC at the Coliseum. Pritchard's fourth-down touchdown pass to receiver Mark Bradford ended the Trojans' 35-game home winning streak.

Now it could be Luck's turn to be the hero.

Or Barkley's.

USC's offense will be aided by fullback Stanley Havili's return to the lineup, but top receiver Damian Williams is doubtful because of an ankle sprain. Tight end Anthony McCoy could return from an ankle sprain, but he is not expected to be at full strength.

Regardless, Barkley said he would not press as USC plays the first of three season-ending home games.

An eighth consecutive Pac-10 title might be within reach if the Trojans defeat Stanford, UCLA and Arizona.

"I'm not trying to make up for yards that I could have had or anything like that," he said. "That's not how we play and that's not how I want to play.

"I'm just approaching it like a normal game."

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Fresh quarterbacks

Freshman quarterbacks have been nudged into the spotlight all over the Pacific 10 Conference and beyond. A look at a few of them:

*--* PACIFIC 10 Att Cmp Yards TD Int *Andrew Luck, Stanford 216 126 2,076 11 3 Matt Barkley, USC 221 125 1,839 10 7 *Kevin Prince, UCLA 184 105 1,264 5 5 Jeff Tuel, Wash. State 71 121 789 6 5 Brock Osweiler, Ariz. St. 45 19 235 2 1 NATIONAL Att Cmp Yards TD Int *Landry Jones, Okla. 287 169 1,902 17 11 Tate Forcier, Michigan 217 122 1,636 10 5 Tom Savage, Rutgers 168 94 1,341 8 1 *B.J. Daniels, S. Florida 122 64 1,096 10 6 *Ryan Griffin, Tulane 135 89 838 4 3 Cody Green, Nebraska 59 33 317 2 2 *--*

Note: Daniels is also South Florida's leading rusher with 519 yards and four touchdowns in 93 carries; *Redshirted last season

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