Treading a fine line: Big win feels unfamiliar

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
11:09
PM PT
Robert WoodsKelvin Kuo/US PresswireRobert Woods and Matt Barkley have been a potent combination; will they ever get to hook up in a bowl game?


LOS ANGELES – So that’s what a blow out win looks like. I hadn’t seen one of those at the Coliseum in a while, so I wasn’t sure I would recognize it when it came around again. …

USC’s 38-17 victory over Syracuse and Matt Barkley’s career-tying five touchdown passes would seem to be just the tonic USC fans needed after complaining all week that a win simply isn’t enough when you’re a Trojan. ...

But it may not have been enough for Lane Kiffin. ...


With the ball on first and goal at the Syracuse 5-yard line and 1:39 left in the game, Kiffin called a timeout and called for a touchdown pass instead of a run or kneel-down, apparently wanting Barkley to break the school record for most touchdown passes by a USC quarterback in a game. Barkley threw for five touchdowns twice last season and currently holds the record with four other players. …

Kiffin smiled like a child who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar after the game when later asked about the play. …

“There’s a story behind that and it’s not your fault, I’m not putting it on you,” Kiffin said, smiling at Barkley and then darting his eyes from right to left. “I was trying to get the ball to Curtis (McNeal) and (offensive graduate assistant) Justin Mesa, we’re told, signaled the wrong play on the wrist band so somehow we ended up with that play. I was just trying to get the ball to Curtis, I don’t know what happened.”
What happened was a Barkley play action pass which ended in a 10-yard sack and prevented a potential “What’s your deal?” exchange between Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and Kiffin after the game. …

Barkley later set the record straight. …

“No, that was the right play,” he said. “I wanted to get the ball to (McNeal). I thought he deserved a score right there. That was a play action play we thought was going to be there and one of their guys broke through and it didn’t work out but that was the right call.” …

Last season USC was 3-3 at the Coliseum, defeating California by a score of 48-14, but winning the other two games by just a combined four points. The win against Cal on Oct. 16 was the last time USC won a game, home or away, by more than 14 points. And when USC fans exited the Coliseum the last two weeks the Trojans had won by a combined five points (scores after you get home don’t count for this example). So if that drive home felt different Saturday night, it’s because these kinds of wins don’t come around too often anymore. …

Barkley’s 44-yard touchdown pass to tight end Randall Telfer in the third quarter was just the second time USC had scored in the second half this season. The Trojans would go on to score two more times to break their early season trend of sleepwalking after halftime. …

Mikhail Marinovich, the younger brother of former USC quarterback Todd Marinovich, is a senior defensive end on Syracuse and had three tackles in the loss. “This is where I’m from,” he said. “It hurts a little bit more to lose here.” His Rollie Fingers-like mustache, which has its own Twitter account @MustacheOvich54, more than makes up for the loss in my book. …

Speaking of former USC quarterbacks, Carson Palmer was tailgating on campus before the game and took time out to take some pictures with fans. …

Former USC senior associate athletic director Daryl Gross returned to USC for the first time since leaving the school in 2004 to become the Syracuse athletic director. His claim to fame was convincing former USC athletic director Mike Garrett to hire his old friend, an out of work coach by the name of Pete Carroll in 2001 when Garrett was aggressively pursuing Mike Bellotti, Dennis Erickson, Mike Riley and Dennis Franchione. …

With his eight receptions Saturday, Robert Woods now has 33 catches in USC’s first three games, which are the most receptions in a three-game stretch in school history. That’s a lot of great receivers from Lynn Swann to Keyshawn Johnson to Mike Williams. So essentially you have a record-breaking quarterback and receiver at USC and neither one of them can play in the postseason in what might be their only two seasons together. …

USC’s inability to play in a bowl game seems to be the biggest reason why a win simply isn’t good enough for so many fans anymore. Teams competing for championships are simply trying win at all costs but when you’re not playing for anything, style points are all you have to feel good about. For one week at least, USC knows how that feels again.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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