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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Barkley: The wrong target for fans' wrath

By Mark Saxon

Early in the first half of Saturday's game, former USC tailback Marc Tyler tweeted, "Barkley is not that good, sorry SC fans."

Apparently, that created a Twitter-storm because Tyler later tweeted, "Get mad if you want, I speak the truth."

He does? Imagine Tyler's take if, during an eventual 62-51 loss, Matt Barkley hadn't completed 65 percent of his passes and thrown for 484 yards and five touchdowns. It's amazing how nobody ever singles out the nose tackle or the free safety, even when a team is in the midst of the worst defensive performance in its history.

If you're searching for a litany of reasons why USC is off to a frustrating 6-3 start, you would have to dissect the entire 75-man roster -- stopping just short of Marqise Lee -- to find someone less worthy of blame than Barkley.

In the Trojans' last two losses, Barkley has thrown for 977 combined yards and eight touchdowns.

Oh yeah, but what about the interceptions, two in each of USC's three losses? Making better decisions is something he's working on, but it's not as if Barkley's flinging the ball recklessly. On the first one Saturday, the defender practically mauled Lee before making an athletic catch at the back of the end zone. On the second one, Barkley was trying to avoid a sack.

Of his 10 interceptions this season, seven were Barkley's fault, by the estimation of coach Lane Kiffin.

Barkley's two main infractions in his four seasons at USC were playing at a time the program got pummeled by the NCAA and having to be compared to Andrew Luck. It's not exactly a fair backdrop. He's not perfect, but he's an elite quarterback who has lived up to everything other than the recruiting hype. How many high school phenoms do?

He'll probably be a good quarterback in the NFL, too, and if he is, every USC fan will claim they loved him in college. He might even end up the top quarterback drafted next spring. It'll be close between him and Geno Smith of West Virginia. Had he come out a year ago, he would have had to contend with Luck and Robert Griffin III.

A leaky USC defense and one truly awful team-wide performance against Stanford has skewed everyone's perceptions.

"If we were winning these games, the storyline would be about Matt’s play and how he’s even playing better than a year ago," Kiffin said. "People would think that would be hard to do, to duplicate or do better than what arguably was the best season in the history of the conference for a quarterback."

Hyperbole aside, he's got a point. Other than an uptick in interceptions, Barkley is having his best season yet. He has thrown for more yards, more touchdowns and with a better passer efficiency rating than he did in 2011. Sure, his receivers make him look good, but he makes them look good, too.



People complain about the interceptions, but you rarely see anyone express an appreciation for his improved touch on deep balls or his precision timing with his two dynamic receivers. He has helped cut down on sacks, even after losing one of the best left tackles in USC history, by getting rid of the ball more quickly.

If anyone has reason to complain, it's Robert Woods, who has caught 31 fewer balls this season than a year ago, mostly due to the emergence of Lee as, probably, the best receiver in the country.

"I'm sure people look to him, because he's the leader of our team, but he's definitely not the one to blame here," Woods said.

Told of Tyler's tweet, Woods shook his head, smiled and said, "Marc."

It's been said before. Barkley didn't keep first-round NFL money on the table to return for his senior season so he could go to the Alamo Bowl and see his Heisman hopes dissipate by the beginning of November. He probably doesn't have enough time to change people's perceptions of his career, so all he can do is continue to add to his records. One day, people might appreciate them.

Kiffin met with him at length Monday and the two agreed on a goal for the Trojans' final three games, or however many they have to play: no more interceptions.

"Decision-making all around is something I can get better at," Barkley said.

He made a surprising decision to come back last December. So far, it hasn't quite worked out, but they'll miss him when he's gone.