NCF Nation: Warriors-Trojans 090112

Lee outshines Barkley in USC win

September, 2, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- USC quarterback Matt Barkley earned only second billing in the Trojans' 49-10 victory over Hawaii on Saturday. That the Heisman Trophy favorite isn't the lead story after passing for 351 yards and four touchdowns means somebody did something special.

That would be receiver Marqise Lee. He took the first pass of the game -- a short out route -- and went 75 yards for a score. And that wasn't as spectacular as his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Lee finished with 191 yards receiving on 10 receptions and perhaps joined Barkley on at least a couple of Heisman lists.

Not that Lee, a true sophomore, is angling to get on the Heisman radar.

"Naaah," he said. "I give that all to Matt. Just the fact of him coming back [for his senior season]. He's a great quarterback. He's the reason I'm getting all those balls. He's putting it right on the money."

Barkley and Lee have been making beautiful music together for a bit now. This is Lee's third consecutive game with more than 185 yards receiving, and his 602 yards receiving against Oregon, UCLA and Hawaii is the best three-game receiving stretch in school history.

When All-American Robert Woods was banged up last season, Lee stepped up. Now Lee looks like the Trojans' No. 1 option, something coach Lane Kiffin has talked openly about.

"He'll be one of the best ever when it's all said and done," Kiffin said.

If that sounds like Kiffin is puffing up his players with hyperbole, he certainly wasn't gushing about Lee's performance against Hawaii specifically. When asked whether Lee validated some of the plaudits Kiffin had been handing out during preseason practices, Kiffin replied, "He didn't with the two drops in the first half. Those were critical plays."

Lee failed to haul in a deep pass from Barkley that was perfectly thrown and dropped a 2-point conversion. Those were not good plays, and Lee admitted as much himself. But, oh boy, Lee certainly made some others.

Lee, a 6-foot, 195-pound speedster from down the road in Inglewood, has great vision and has the ability to make defenders miss with an economy of moves. He doesn't jitterbug. He cuts and goes, piling up yards after the catch on most of his touches.

He might not displace Barkley atop Heisman lists, but he might challenge Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas as the Pac-12's -- the nation's -- most electric player.

Further, Lee is stronger than last season. He gets yards after the catch and yards after contact.

"The first guy rarely ever tackles him," Kiffin said.

Still, the postgame theme from Kiffin and his players was dissatisfaction, at least with the offensive performance.

"Our expectations are higher than the way we played today," Kiffin said.

Barkley termed the game "bittersweet" because he felt the offense missed plays that were open. "We could have put a lot more points on the board," he said.

Barkley even got on Lee in the third quarter when Lee cut short a route and Barkley took a hit as a result.

"You expect perfection," Barkley said. "It's nothing personal."

Not personal. Business. Part of the whole "unfinished business" deal.

While it wasn't perfect, USC's dominant win was impressive, a solid way to begin a season with stratospheric expectations. And it certainly made clear that the Trojans are more than a one-star constellation. On opening night, Lee's star burned the brightest.

Instant analysis: USC 49, Hawaii 10

September, 1, 2012

The USC Trojans, who opened the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, showed why many consider them the best team in the country with a 49-10 thrashing of Hawaii. Here's how it all went down at the Coliseum.

It was over when: Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods all decided they'd get out of bed this morning. Barkley and Lee hooked up for a 75-yard touchdown on USC's first offensive play and the Trojans never looked back.

Game ball goes to: Take your pick among that trio. But we'll go with Lee and his 10 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown. He also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Unsung hero: Making his USC debut, running back Silas Redd, a transfer from Penn State, carried nine times for 57 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-2.

Unsung hero, take 2: USC linebacker Hayes Pullard was beastly. On top of his hard hits, he also had a pick-six late in the first quarter.

Heisman watch: Barkley entered the season as the front-runner and didn't disappoint. He missed on a couple of balls and there were some drops. But overall a pretty good night: 24-of-39, 351 yards and four touchdowns.

What it means: Probably not much at this point. Most people expected USC would cruise against Hawaii. It wasn't as clean as it could have been. There were some dropped balls and Redd did lose a fumble, so there are some negative plays the Trojans can go back and scrutinize. But USC didn't stub its toe, nor did the Trojans give the people who voted them No. 1 any reason to doubt their selection.

USC ready to start title run

September, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC is back as the Big Show, as a premier football program that features All-Americans, high rankings and national title hopes.

At least, that's been the big talk all summer. Really, it started last December when QB Matt Barkley stood in front of a Christmas Tree inside Heritage Hall and first spoke of "unfinished business."

His returning to a 10-2 team that finished ranked sixth with 18 other starters coming back made the Trojans a vogue favorite to knock the SEC from its perch atop college football.

It also made Barkley the heavy preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. And forced more than a few folks to reconsider some of their previously negative opinions about coach Lane Kiffin.

But now toe-meets-leather, the games begin and USC either takes care of business or flops. Because, as ridiculous as it might sound for a team with just 75 scholarship players, anything less than a Rose Bowl berth would seem like a failure. Heck, some might say it's national title or bust.

It begins this evening against Hawaii, which should be completely overmatched. So success in the opener is defined by a blowout and starters sitting out the fourth quarter.

Of course, new Warriors coach Norm Chow, the former offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, would love to stick it to the Trojans, or at least make life difficult for them. He's not a huge fan of how he was pushed aside at USC, and he's long held a grudge against Kiffin and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who took over for him in 2005.

So what to look for if the scoreboard holds little intrigue?
  • The stat sheet: If Barkley is going to win the Heisman, he'll need numbers. So expect him to attack with receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
  • The RBs: How will Kiffin split time between Curtis McNeal, his returning starter, and Silas Redd, a high-profile transfer from Penn State?
  • The DL: The Trojans' only real question mark -- other than overall depth -- is the defensive line, which was replacing three starters even before Devon Kennard was lost to a pec injury. The Warriors are rebuilding on the offensive line, so the Trojans should win the upfront battle. If they don't, that should inspire some concern.
  • The wounded: USC won't win a national championship if it suffers more than a small handful of injuries. It needs to stay healthy because of the scholarship limitations. And, yes, the D-line is the place it can least afford to lose guys.

While this game won't make much of a big picture statement -- unless the Trojans implode -- it will set the scene for the season. Is USC again the Big Show? Is it ready to party like it's 2002-08 again?

We shall see shortly.

Video: USC's Matt Barkley

September, 1, 2012

Quarterback Matt Barkley sits down with Samantha Steele to talk about defying odds and making a statement with USC.