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Avoiding interceptions is the priority for Matt Barkley

USC FYI

USC quarterback Matt Barkley has had 10 passes intercepted (three more than last year), and four in the last two weeks. The goal is none the rest of the season.

November 06, 2012|By Gary Klein

In USC's last two games, Matt Barkley passed for nearly 1,000 yards. The senior quarterback also has thrown for 30 touchdowns this season, putting him on pace to eclipse last year's total of 39.

Those are some of the numbers Coach Lane Kiffin points to when saying Barkley is playing "even better than he did a year ago."

But the four-year starter also has had 10 passes intercepted — including two in an Oct. 27 loss at Arizona and two in last Saturday's defeat by Oregon — giving Barkley three more interceptions than in all of 2011.

So Kiffin and Barkley met this week and talked about a goal for the last quarter of the season.

"No picks the rest of the year," Barkley said after practice Tuesday.

Barkley came close to attaining that goal last season, when he had only one pass intercepted in the final three games.

That level of efficiency might be required if the No. 21 Trojans hope to defeat Arizona State, No. 17 UCLA and No. 4 Notre Dame.

"Smart decision-making," Barkley said when asked what would be required, "don't force any balls. I hate taking sacks and so sometimes I try to get the ball out rather than taking a sack."

Barkley's aversion to taking a sack led to an ill-advised pass that resulted in an interception against Oregon.

The solution?

"Whether that's just tucking it in and trying to get as many yards as you can," he said, "or heaving it as hard as you can out of bounds to try to just get away from defenders, we'll take that."

Barkley also seeks to continue the improvement he has made on deep passes. Against Oregon, he connected with receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor on touchdown pass plays of 75 and 76 yards.

But it's the recent setbacks against Arizona and Oregon, not the touchdowns or gaudy passing totals, that stick with Barkley.

"The things that stand out to me are those picks and those drives that fell short that could have made the difference in both games," he said. "Those are things that you think about in bed, not the numbers or anything like that."

Poll position

With elections being held Tuesday, Kiffin was asked if he was going to vote.

"I don't answer political questions," he quipped, and when pressed added, "I don't answer 'em. They're a no-win."

Quick hits

USC's 2013 opener at Hawaii will be played on Thursday, Aug. 29, the schools announced. . . . USC's Nov. 17 game against UCLA at the Rose Bowl will kick off at either noon, and be televised by Fox, or 5 p.m. and be televised by ABC, the schools announced. A final decision is expected by Monday.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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