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USC 56, SAN JOSE STATE 3

Opener is fresh and easy for Trojans

Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley is poised and efficient in debut, and Joe McKnight leads dominant running game in 56-3 rout of San Jose State.

September 06, 2009|Gary Klein

Matt Barkley's first start for USC came rife with potential problems.

A big Coliseum crowd might cause the freshman quarterback to flinch, or worse.

And San Jose State was led by a coach who had devised a scheme famous for rattling even the most experienced opponents.

The 18-year-old Barkley just shrugged.

Then he went out and played like a seasoned veteran, leading fourth-ranked USC to a 56-3 victory over San Jose State.

"Matt Barkley just absolutely handled this," Coach Pete Carroll said. "It was no big deal for him."

With a trip to Ohio State looming in the second week of the season, Barkley's ascent to the top of the Trojans' depth chart had been a huge talking point for media and fans after Carroll decided to make him the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for the Trojans.

But the former Santa Ana Mater Dei High star showed he would not be flustered, even by a slow start.

"It was a great first day -- I couldn't have wished for anything better," said Barkley, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown without an interception.

Barkley was helped by a rushing attack led by tailback Joe McKnight.

The junior from Louisiana took advantage of his first opening-game start, overcoming a first-quarter fumble to finish with 145 yards and two touchdowns in 14 carries, including a spectacular 54-yard scoring run.

Senior Stafon Johnson scored twice, junior Allen Bradford dashed for a 43-yard touchdown and sophomore Marc Tyler also scored a late touchdown as the Trojans amassed 342 of their 620 yards on the ground.

Meanwhile, the defense recorded 16 tackles for losses and limited San Jose State to nine net yards rushing as the Trojans overcame an early 3-0 deficit.

"The game plan was for the offense to come out slow so we could challenge ourselves," joked middle linebacker Chris Galippo, who made a team-best nine tackles.

Despite the defense's dominating performance and the strong showing by the running game, most of the postgame talk centered on Barkley.

USC players said the freshman played beyond his years in front of an announced crowd of 84,325.

"Barkley doesn't really need help," McKnight said. "Barkley's like a junior."

Sophomore tight end Rhett Ellison, who caught Barkley's first career touchdown pass, said the young quarterback never flinched in the huddle.

"He stepped up," Ellison said, shaking his head. "It's pretty scary to step into the Coliseum for the first time, but he was confident, not shaky at all."

On a hot and sunny day, Barkley and the rest of the offense appeared sluggish in the first quarter. The Trojans lost two fumbles and fell behind, 3-0.

"For a while it looked like we could compete with them," San Jose State Coach Dick Tomey said. "Obviously, it was an illusion."

Tomey had gained fame as the architect of Arizona's "Desert Swarm" defense of the 1990s, and many expected that he would deploy similar strategies to rattle Barkley.

It appeared to work initially, Barkley throwing the ball out of bounds on his first third-down situation and getting sacked on the next.

But with the help of the running game and a stout offensive line, Barkley began rolling out and completing short passes.

The Trojans scored four times in the second quarter for a 28-3 halftime lead and then scored on the first two possessions of the second half.

"He just came to the huddle calm and collected," McKnight said. "He just said, 'Let's get it going,' and when he did we took off."

McKnight helped by taking a pitch from Barkley on the third play of the second half and running to his left. McKnight then slipped five would-be tacklers en route to the end zone, finishing his 54-yard run by somersaulting across the goal line.

"I was stumbling and falling," McKnight said. "I didn't want to go down so I just said 'flip in the end zone.' . . . It worked out perfect."

Barkley followed with his most impressive drive, completing six consecutive passes, including the four-yard touchdown toss to Ellison for a 42-3 lead.

"Our team played a little bumpy at the beginning, but I think we got rolling and it didn't stop -- and I had the best time of my life out here," Barkley said.

With the victory behind them, Barkley and the Trojans began turning their attention to Ohio State.

All-American safety Taylor Mays said the Trojans will need to tackle better to control Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who led Ohio State to a close victory over Navy on Saturday.

But USC's quarterback is once again expected to be the talk of the town.

Barkley celebrates his 19th birthday Tuesday and will board a plane two days later bound for Columbus and Ohio Stadium.

Barkley isn't worried about what awaits at the Horseshoe.

"The atmosphere is going to be nuts -- I probably don't even know how crazy it will be," Barkley said. "But that's not going to faze me."

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Day One

Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley was sharp in his first game for the Trojans:

15

completions

19

attempts

79%

completions

233

yards

1

touchdown

0

interceptions

44

longest completion

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