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USC FOOTBALL

Matt Barkley ready for his shot on hallowed grounds

The USC quarterback is preparing for his first game at Notre Dame Stadium, where past Trojans have had mixed results.

October 14, 2009|Gary Klein

Matt Barkley handled himself impressively in front of more than 106,000 screaming fans at Ohio State.

The USC quarterback weathered a California crowd of more than 71,000 that received specific game-day instructions on how to distract the freshman with noise.

On Saturday, Barkley will get his third major road test -- this time in perhaps college football's most venerable venue.

When sixth-ranked USC plays No. 25 Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium, Barkley has a chance to make his mark in the sport's most intense intersectional rivalry.

Pat Haden and Carson Palmer are among the Trojans quarterbacks who struggled in defeat in starts at a stadium built in 1930. Paul McDonald, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez are among those who flourished in victory.

Barkley was typically poised when asked if he was looking forward to playing at Notre Dame.

"I'm stoked," he said Tuesday before quickly adding, "But I'll say this a million times: It's no different than any other game.

"I'll probably look back after I finish here realizing what a great tradition this is between these two schools. But to me, I'm not doing anything out of the norm to prepare for this."

According to Haden, who played on two national championship teams and now works as a broadcaster on Notre Dame telecasts, Barkley's preparation before arriving at USC will help him block out the pressure that quarterbacks of earlier generations felt playing at Notre Dame Stadium.

Haden, for example, took the first snap in 1973 and turned to hand off to tailback Anthony Davis. Davis, though, had run in a different direction.

"I'm not sure if it was my fault or Anthony's," Haden said. "All I know is I had five or six angry Irish defensive players after me. It was an unimpressive start to say the least."

Haden suggested that Barkley, much like Leinart and Sanchez, would not be similarly awe-struck after spending years playing in high-powered high school programs and prepping for years with private quarterback coaches.

"They're kind of primed as quarterbacks at a very early age to kind of handle these kinds of moments," Haden said. "They're so polished and mature -- I don't expect for him to have the same problems."

Nor does McDonald, who said that starting and playing well in the 1979 game was a career highlight.

The heat of the Notre Dame rivalry, he said, has been lessened some by USC's streak of seven consecutive victories.

"But it's still history and tradition and still an incredibly meaningful experience" for quarterbacks, McDonald said.

USC Coach Pete Carroll hopes that is the case, but in a developmental sense for Barkley.

"He's going to play a lot of games against these guys and understanding that setting will be important to him," Carroll said.

Carroll thought the same thing when Mark Sanchez started for the Trojans two years ago at Notre Dame in place of injured John David Booty.

Sanchez, making his second career start, passed for four touchdowns in a 38-0 victory.

"I remember thinking when Mark played there -- that it was going to be beneficial," Carroll said, chuckling.

"He just never hung around long enough to get a second shot."

Sanchez's early departure for the NFL, of course, opened the door for Barkley to start as a true freshman. Barring injury, he is almost assured of playing again at Notre Dame in 2011.

Barkley brings a growing resume into Saturday's game. He is 4-0 as a starter and has completed 59% of his passes.

"Matt is playing behind a seasoned offensive line with good skill people, but he's not just managing the game, he's making plays too," Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis said.

Barkley hopes to continue his success against a Notre Dame team that ranks 110th in pass defense among 120 major college teams.

Early forecasts called for possible rain or snow on Saturday in South Bend, Ind., but the National Weather Service website on Tuesday said it would be partly cloudy with temperatures in the 40s.

Regardless, Barkley said weather would not be a factor and that the Trojans would be prepared for whatever they might face.

Barkley has seen the Trojans come through in adverse situations before at Notre Dame.

In 2005, he watched on TV as USC defeated the Irish with an epic last-minute drive that featured Leinart's fourth-and-nine pass to Dwayne Jarrett and Leinart's sneak for the game-winning touchdown -- with an assist from tailback Reggie Bush.

Barkley said he probably replayed the scene in his backyard while playing catch.

Did anyone push him across the goal line from behind?

"No, he said, chuckling. "But our running backs know what to do if we're faced with that situation."

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesklein

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