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USC 27, WASHINGTON STATE 6

Trojans win, but it isn't pretty

Matt Barkley returns at quarterback as USC defeats Cougars.

September 27, 2009|Gary Klein

On to October.

That could be USC's rallying cry after the Trojans rebounded from last week's stumble with a 27-6 victory over Washington State on Saturday night at the Coliseum.

It wasn't anything approaching a thing of beauty, especially against a 45 1/2 -point underdog, but 12th-ranked USC will take it, warts and all.

Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley returned to the starting lineup and passed for two touchdowns as USC restored a bit of confidence after the debacle in Seattle, a loss to Washington that sent the Trojans plummeting in the polls.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Coach Pete Carroll said. "Gosh, it's just not at all the kind of satisfying win we would've liked to have had."

On a weekend when fourth-ranked Mississippi, fifth-ranked Penn State and sixth-ranked California lost, USC improved USC to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference.

It won't get easier.

Now comes an October that features consecutive road games at Cal and Notre Dame and a Halloween night matchup at Oregon's Autzen Stadium.

If the Trojans are to get back into the hunt for the Bowl Championship Series title, it is clear they will be relying on a defense that just missed recording its second consecutive shutout against Washington State (1-3, 0-2).

The Trojans recorded eight sacks, recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass before freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel directed a 71-yard drive that ended with Dwight Tardy's two-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds left.

"If that's what it's going to take, for the defense to step up and make a statement every single week," said middle linebacker Chris Galippo, "if that's how we're going to get our wins, then that's what we've got to do."

But many of the problems that plagued USC in its last two games were in evidence again.

The Trojans, for example, amassed seven penalties for 75 yards . . . in the first quarter.

Wide receiver Damian Williams caught a touchdown pass but also fumbled. Tight end Rhett Ellison dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone.

Jordan Congdon left another field-goal attempt short.

And the Trojans' offense struggled again, converting only three of nine third downs and totaling 405 yards against a defense that was giving up an average of 577.

USC took a 20-0 first-quarter lead on a three-yard touchdown run by Joe McKnight and Barkley's scoring passes to Brice Butler and Damian Williams. But then the Trojans went scoreless until the fourth quarter.

On the positive side . . .

Play-caller Jeremy Bates finally opened up the playbook and allowed Barkley to throw the ball downfield.

Barkley had played well in the opener against San Jose State and demonstrated poise and toughness in leading the Trojans to victory at Ohio State, but Bates never gave him an opportunity him to throw passes longer than about 20 yards.

Aaron Corp was restricted even more when he started in place of Barkley last week.

"We've got to open it up more," Bates said this week.

The question was: How much could they really open it up with a sore-armed quarterback?

Barkley had said this week that the bone bruise in his right shoulder was still causing pain when he threw passes, and he made mostly soft throws during practices.

But Barkley did not look inhibited against the Cougars, completing 13 of 22 passes for 247 yards without an interception.

Barkley connected on first-quarter touchdown pass plays of 29 yards to Butler and 57 yards to Williams.

And he did it within a span of nine seconds.

After Williams gave USC great field position with a 28-yard punt return, Barkley threw a career-long 29-yard touchdown pass to Butler in the left corner of the end zone.

USC's Jake Harfman then bounced an onside kick 10 yards and recovered the ball before a Washington State player touched it.

On the ensuing play, Barkley dropped back and hit Williams about 25 yards downfield. The junior raced to the end zone for his first touchdown of the season and a 20-0 lead.

But that's all the scoring USC could muster until Stafon Johnson scored on a short touchdown run on the third play of the fourth quarter.

"We had our ups and downs," Barkley said of the offense. "I really wasn't concerned too much."

So the Trojans leave behind a September marred by the 16-13 loss at Washington that might have doomed the Trojans' chances for a Pac-10 title, never mind a national title.

And the victory over Washington State is not exactly going to inspire confidence from those who had been willing to give the Trojans the benefit of the doubt.

Last week, as the Trojans were readying for Washington State, they could already see what was coming.

"October is going to be a nice little month," tailback Allen Bradford said.

Nice?

After the Cal game, the Trojans have an open date before returning to the Midwest for the second time this season.

"That bye is going to help us out a lot," Galippo said. "It's been nonstop football since the beginning of camp.

"A lot of guys will be able to get healthy and get ready for the middle to the back end of the season.

"November, we just don't lose."

That might be true, but first comes October.

If the Trojans keep playing the way they did against Washington State, there are no guarantees.

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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