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USC quarterback Matt Barkley gets his first road test at Ohio State

The freshman's second game as a Trojan takes him to one of college football's most hostile environments. Both teams harbor national title-game hopes.

September 12, 2009

USC gets its first major test as the Trojans visit one of college football's most hostile environments. USC and Ohio State both have national title-game hopes, and the Buckeyes also have the weight of an underachieving Big Ten Conference on their backs. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key matchups and issues:

Leading roles

In a college career that is only one game old, USC quarterback Matt Barkley reaches a milestone -- his first road test.

There are kind, gentle places for a true freshman to play away from home -- Ohio Stadium, with 105,000 screaming Buckeyes fans, is not one of them.

But as Barkley said this week: "Bring it on."

Barkley is coming off a 15-for-19 passing performance against San Jose State that featured a touchdown and no interceptions.

He would do well to keep an eye out for Buckeyes linebacker Brian Rolle, who picked off a two-point conversion pass last week against Navy to preserve a victory.

Meanwhile, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is no doubt looking forward to the sanctuary of the field after a weeklong controversy about his eye-black tribute to Michael Vick.

How dependent are the Buckeyes on Pryor?

The 6-foot-6 sophomore, described by Trojans safety Taylor Mays as "a pterodactyl," cannot fly but he has run or passed for half of Ohio State's 42 offensive touchdowns since the start of last season.

USC defensive ends Everson Griffen, Wes Horton, Malik Jackson, Nick Perry and Devon Kennard are on the spot to contain Pryor.

Triple option

Ohio State gave up 186 rushing yards last week against Navy, but it's difficult to assess what that means in terms of USC because the Midshipmen ran the triple option.

The Trojans also feature a triple threat in the backfield, though in individual doses.

Joe McKnight will start for the second game in a row and is in position for a national star turn if he can avoid fumbling.

Allen Bradford is likely to again be the second tailback in the game, but if it's close and USC needs a time-consuming drive, Stafon Johnson could get a larger role.

Dan Herron and Brandon Saine are the Buckeyes' top running backs, but everything revolves around Pryor.

USC's defensive line got a boost with the return of senior tackle Averell Spicer, who will rotate with Jurrell Casey, Christian Tupou and Hebron Fangupo.

New crop

Last year's game between these teams was billed as a linebacker showcase.

Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava led the Trojans, and James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman were marquee players for the Buckeyes.

A new generation of stars could be born today if USC's Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan neutralize Pryor and create a turnover or two.

For the Buckeyes, Rolle is flanked by Ross Homan and Austin Spitler, who all will be called on to fill the gaps and possibly blitz and confuse Barkley.

Line of praise

San Jose State Coach Dick Tomey said USC's offensive line was the best he had seen in a nearly three-decade head-coaching career that also includes stints at Hawaii and Arizona.

And Tomey's assessment came after the Trojans played without starting center Kristofer O'Dowd.

O'Dowd has recovered from a dislocated kneecap and will start against the Buckeyes, giving the Trojans a lineup that includes guards Jeff Byers and Alex Parsons and tackles Charles Brown and Tyron Smith. Butch Lewis, who started the opener at left guard, can play tackle or guard if needed.

Special interest

Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey made all three of his field-goal attempts against Navy, including a 52-yarder. John Thoma averaged 44.5 yards a punt for the Buckeyes.

USC needs a better performance from punter Bill O'Malley, who averaged only 34.7 yards against San Jose State.

Kicker Jordan Congdon has yet to attempt a field goal, but he is accustomed to kicking in packed stadiums from his two seasons at Nebraska.

By the numbers

*--* USC CATEGORY OSU 56.0 Scoring 31.0 3.0 Points given up 27.0 278.0 Passing offense 210.0 342.0 Rushing offense 153.0 620.0 Total offense 363.0 112.0 Passing defense 156.0 9.0 Rushing defense 186.0 121.0 Total defense 342.0 *--*

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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