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USC enjoys shootout victory

LOS ANGELES -- The big question for the USC Trojans this week against the Arizona Wildcats was how they would respond following a tough road loss last week against ASU.

Well, a quick check of the numbers shows that the USC offense passed that test with flying colors, literally.

Matt Barkley set a school record with 468 passing yards while throwing for four touchdowns and hitting on 32 of 39 passes. He got plenty of help from his wide receivers, as Robert Woods had 14 catches for 255 yards and a pair of scores while Marqise Lee had eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown.

Thanks in large part to those efforts through the air, the Trojans were able to come away with a 48-41 victory that was a classic Pac-12 Conference shootout.

"I'm really proud of the way we rebounded from last week and got ourselves to 4-1," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "Matt Barkley was phenomenal; he had the greatest passing day in USC history. That's a great offense we faced today, too."

For fans of offensive football, it was a game to enjoy from the start.

Arizona took the opening possession and moved past midfield before having to punt, with the Trojans taking over inside their own 10. On the second play from scrimmage, Barkley hit Woods with a short pass. Woods was able to weave through a pair of good downfield blocks from Brandon Carswell and Brice Butler to go untouched for an 82-yard touchdown.

"It's so nice just to get in a rhythm by scoring on that first drive," offensive tackle Matt Kalil said. "I think that really set the tempo of the game, that every time we go out there we're looking to score any kind of points."

Arizona took over on the next possession with its no-huddle offense and a quarterback in Nick Foles, who hadn't thrown an interception all year. USC safety T.J. McDonald put an end that streak when he went low to intercept a pass at the USC 30-yard line, with the Trojans promptly converting that turnover into a field goal. McDonald made another pick on Arizona's next drive, setting up a Barkley touchdown pass to Lee three plays later. Suddenly the Trojans were up 17-0 in the first quarter.

"We knew how explosive their offense could be and those two picks from T.J. were huge," Kiffin said. "I was really excited that we were able to get those, because we hadn't been getting a lot of turnovers on defense."

That was the last time the Trojans would stop the Wildcats until the fourth quarter. Foles led Arizona on five straight touchdown drives, four of the TDs coming through the air, as he completed passes to 12 different receivers on the day. The issue of second-half problems has plagued USC this year, and there was a growing sense of worry among Trojans fans as Foles kept leading Arizona on scoring drives.

Fortunately for the Trojans, Barkley stayed hot, too. In addition to his four scoring throws, Barkley also added a rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter, helping USC maintain its lead the whole way. The Trojans were up 27-12 at halftime and 34-27 through three quarters, maintaining that separation in the fourth.

"There weren't a lot of stops in this game," Kiffin said. "We knew they had a quarterback who had put up big numbers all year while trying to come from behind, so we paid a lot of attention to preventing the big play. We gave up more than we would have liked in the second half. We missed some tackles, and they went down a little too easily at times."

In the end, the important thing for the Trojans to take away from this game is the fact that it was a tight battle throughout and they made the plays necessary to walk away with a victory.

"It was amazing to play in a game like that" Lee said. "That just makes the game more fun, having two great teams go back and forth. I feel like our defense did great. Every team is going to make a couple plays, and that's just what Arizona did."

That is the story of the 2011 Trojans so far. They made the statement that the offense is capable of putting up big numbers, but the equal reality is that the defense is capable of giving up big numbers as well. As USC heads into the bye week, it's clear that the remainder of the Pac-12 schedule is going to offer plenty of challenges for this team. But it's clearly better to have a 4-1 record entering those challenges. After the way it lost last week, every member of the USC team will gladly take that result and move on.

Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at garry@wearesc.com.