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Matt Barkley makes it look easy, USC doesn't in win over Arizona

Matt Barkley sets USC record with 468 yards passing and throws for four touchdowns, and Robert Woods has 14 receptions, but Trojans continue to struggle on defense and have to hang on for 48-41 victory.

October 01, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • USC quarterback Matt Barkley celebrates with receiver Robert Woods after a touchdown pass against Arizona at the Coliseum on Saturday.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley celebrates with receiver Robert Woods after… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

It had all the appearances of an easy victory.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods looked like they were on their way to record-setting performances, and the turnover-starved Trojans capitalized on two interceptions in building a three-touchdown lead.

But as has been the case throughout the season, USC showed Saturday against struggling Arizona that nothing will come easy.

Trojans players and fans at the Coliseum could not exhale until safety T.J. McDonald clutched the ball after an onside kick in the final minute, preserving USC's 48-41 victory.

"Being here as long as I have, you just take your Ws when you can get 'em — however you can get 'em," said USC linebacker Chris Galippo, a fifth-year senior. "They're too hard to come across."

Arizona, coming off three consecutive losses to top-10 teams, exposed some major flaws in USC's defense.

But on a day when Barkley set a school record with 468 yards passing and threw for four touchdowns, the Trojans improved to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Pacific 12 Conference.

"It's definitely an honor," Barkley said of eclipsing a record held by 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. "But at the same time, today it doesn't even feel like it at all because it was such a tight game and it was going back and forth."

Barkley rebounded from last week's two-interception, one-fumble performance against Arizona State and completed 32 of 39 passes, with one interception. As usual, his favorite target was Woods, who had 14 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns, including a spectacular 82-yard catch-and-run on the Trojans' second play.

Barkley had passed for 301 yards and three touchdowns by halftime, and he extended a 15-point lead to 22 early in the third quarter with a 28-yard strike to Woods.

However, Arizona quarterback Nick Foles pushed the Trojans to the brink.

"Going in at halftime, I didn't think the game was over, but I thought we were going to come out, dominate and finish them off," USC linebacker Dion Bailey said. "Unfortunately, that was not the case. But I'm glad we snuck out of here with a win."

So was Coach Lane Kiffin, whose team has an open date next Saturday before playing California at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Oct. 13.

"Obviously, we bent a little bit more than we would have liked in the second half, but in the end we won the game," Kiffin said.

USC gained 582 yards and never punted against an Arizona defense that statistically was one of the worst in college football after losses to No. 5 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Stanford and No. 9 Oregon.

"Defense continues to be our issue," said Arizona Coach Mike Stoops, whose team fell to 1-4 and 0-3 in conference play.

Meanwhile, USC gave up 554 yards and 37 first downs as Foles nearly engineered the comeback.

The senior entered the game having not had a pass intercepted in 200 attempts dating to last season. McDonald picked off two in the first quarter, but Foles calmly passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns, including one to Austin Hill with a minute left to pull the Wildcats to within seven points.

Foles got that opportunity because Kiffin, with the Trojans leading, 48-34, and less than two minutes left, opted to go for it on fourth and one at the Arizona 47-yard line instead of punting.

The Trojans had forced Arizona to punt on the previous possession, but Kiffin was wary of a USC defense that had allowed the Wildcats to score on five consecutive possessions before that.

"We had an opportunity to put the game away," he said.

Barkley underthrew receiver Brandon Carswell downfield on a play Kiffin said was designed to go to Woods in the flat.

Foles' four-yard strike to Hill preceded the onside kick.

With USC fans holding their breath, Arizona kicker John Bonano sent the ball bouncing 10 yards upfield toward the right sideline. McDonald leaped and grabbed it to secure the win.

"I was like, 'OK we don't have to get back on the field again,'" McDonald said. "Let our offense go into the best formation in football — the victory formation."

USC now has a break before taking on Cal and Notre Dame in consecutive road games.

"As ugly as it's looked," Galippo said. "There are so many teams around the country that would give anything to be 4-1 going into a bye week, so we're doing great."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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