Saturday, October 20, 2012
USC-Colorado postgame notes
By Pedro Moura
LOS ANGELES -- Here are notes and quotes from the USC Trojans' 50-6 smashing of Colorado on Saturday at the Coliseum that won't make it into our other coverage from the day.
The best of the records
Tee Martin, USC's first-year receivers coach, remembers it vividly.
It was Halloween 1998, Tennessee's national championship season, and his Volunteers were taking on South Carolina on the road.
As the quarterback, he completed his first 23 passes on the day in a 49-14 win, finishing 23-of-24 for a 95.8 completion percentage. The national championship win takes precedence in his pantheon of collegiate memories, he said Saturday, but that performance might well be second.
So it's not crazy to assume that Matt Barkley's completion percentage in Saturday's win was actually the best record he set on the day. In a magnificent performance against a horrific defense, Barkley completed 19 of his 20 attempts for 98 yards and six touchdowns. He tied his own record for scoring throws in a game and set a new school and conference record for them in a career, breaking Matt Leinart's mark of 99.
And he did it all in about 35 minutes, coming out before the third quarter was even half over. And the only incompletion came on a dropped pass by Curtis McNeal, too -- on an on-the-money throw.
Barkley's 95 percent completion rate set a USC and Pac-12 record and came just short -- by .8 percent -- of Martin's all-time NCAA record set that day in Columbia. Martin knew what was going on in the second half and half-expected Trojans coach Lane Kiffin to send Barkley back in to challenge for the record.
Barkley used the word "special" at least five times discussing his record-setting day in the postgame press conference, but he used a different word talking about his accuracy.
"To have a nearly perfect game in that sense was something cool," Barkley said.
Similarly, Kiffin seemed to expect most of the records Barkley and receiver Robert Woods set against the Buffaloes. But he didn't expect his quarterback to complete 19 of 20 passes.
"I think we really felt that this was gonna happen," Kiffin said. "I don't know if I could have predicted a 95 percent completion percentage, but I really felt we were going to throw the ball really well."
Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling bowed their heads in shame recalling the incident.
Starling messed up a for-sure interception -- and likely pick six -- late in the second quarter when he overran a Jordan Webb pass intended for Tony Jones that was thrown more closely to him. Starling reacted violently to the mistake and still groaned when asked about it afterward.
He simply got too excited.
"I hate to admit it," Starling said, "but, yes."
Said Robey, who was nowhere near the play but saw it all happen: "Don't remind me. It made me mad. I told him, 'Bro, you just ran through the ball. You would've been gone.'"
Here's the crazy thing, though: That would have been the Trojans' seventh turnover of the night. The fact that they were lamenting that says a lot about the progress Monte Kiffin's unit has made over the past year-plus.
"We want more," said linebacker Tony Burnett, who had one of the three interceptions. "If we can get six turnovers against these teams coming up, it's gonna look really good for us."
Three Trojans made the first interceptions of their major-college careers Saturday -- well, two, but Drew McAllister's previous picks were so long ago that they barely count.
Burnett's and safety Gerald Bowman's were both legitimate, though. In a crafty third-quarter play, Burnett snatched the ball out of the hands of Colorado's Nelson Spruce and returned it 55 yards, with only the opposing quarterback preventing him from scoring. Bowman later picked off Webb just short of the end zone and returned it 19 yards.
"It fell right into my lap," Burnett said of his play. "While he was bringing his hands down, I slapped at it, the ball popped in the air and I grabbed it. Then I turned around and I was like, 'Whoa, I got the ball.'"
USC is now averaging almost three times as many interceptions this season as last, with 14 through seven games compared to nine in 12 games.
Still with the penalties
USC had set a goal to limit its penalties against the Buffs after leading the nation in flags per game midway through the 2012 season.
That didn't work too well. The Trojans finished with 10 penalties, including four of the personal-foul or unsportsmanlike-conduct variety.
"It was just really upsetting," Kiffin said. "That's not who we want to be and not the product we want to put out there."
The flags cost USC a total of 90 yards. Colorado, by contrast, had only four for 46 yards.
Freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams was ejected in the second quarter after he threw a punch at a Colorado offensive player's facemask.
Teammates said Williams was spit on in the bottom of the dogpile. Because he was ejected due to a flagrant foul, the play will be reviewed by the Pac-12 office to determine whether he'll be suspended for the Trojans' next game.
Williams could miss half or all of the Arizona game. Kiffin said he didn't get a good look at what Williams did but was going to pull him from the game even if the officials didn't.
Left tackle Aundrey Walker went down with an apparent neck injury in the third quarter and was carted off the field and transported to the hospital.
Freshman Max Tuerk, who replaced him Saturday and stands to take his place if Walker's out for an extended injury, said the injury looked "really bad."
"I really wish the best for him," Tuerk said. "We'll see how he is tomorrow."
Walker and Tuerk had been rotating in every other series in the first half.
In other injury news, receiver Marqise Lee had stitches in his hand, Woods said, which played a role in Barkley throwing the ball to him only six times Saturday.
Final notes: De'Von Flournoy's 21-yard second-quarter catch was the first of his career. Woods recalled a passing-league tournament from his junior season of high school football when he was playing safety and Flournoy tore him up as a receiver. Woods said that was one of the reasons he came to USC. ... Receiver George Farmer said he was "caught off guard" when Kiffin called him into the game late in the fourth quarter at running back. Farmer's one carry, which went for nine yards, was called back because of a penalty. ... One of the most famous members of Earth, Wind & Fire, falsetto Philip Bailey, was in attendance at the Coliseum, invited by Colorado coach Jon Embree. ... Said Embree of Barkley: "There's a reason why he's gonna go like that in the draft. I'm glad he's done and I don't have to see him in person anymore."