Sunday, September 2, 2012
Lee outshines Barkley in USC win
By Ted Miller
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.