USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s favorite target has been sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods (Gardena Serra High School), but freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee (above, Gardena Serra High School) has been getting a lot of catches. He is the Trojans second leading receiver with 21 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Woods leads the way with 55 catches for 747 yards and six touchdowns. Photo by Jeff Lewis
USC junior running back Curtis McNeal (Venice High School) leads the team with an 8.5 yards per carry average, but he still finds himself getting less carries than backs who do not average as much. Photo by Jeff Lewis
As expected, the Matt Barkley-Robert Woods show continued to rack up big numbers last week against the visiting Arizona Wildcats.
What wasn’t expected, however, was the kind of defensive performance by the Trojans that allowed the Wildcats to stay in the game until the final minute.
The game came down to an onside kick, recovered by safety TJ McDonald, to seal the victory for USC, 48-41.
It was only fitting that McDonald’s hands secured the win for the Trojans.
In the first quarter Arizona had two consecutive drives end with interceptions by McDonald. They were the first two interceptions of the season for Arizona senior quarterback Nick Foles, who had entered the game with 183 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. The two picks turned into to 10 points for USC.
McDonald, who had zero interceptions entering the game, had extra incentive from head coach Lane Kiffin to create takeaways.
“If we win the turnover margin, we get ice cream,” McDonald said after the game.
Frozen treats apparently weren’t enough for McDonald’s defensive teammates, whom not only created no other takeaways, but allowed Arizona to finish the game with 554 yards of total offense — the most allowed by the Trojans this season. The Wildcats also scored touchdowns on all five trips to the redzone. Their 29 second-half points were the most the Trojans have given up this season.
USC doesn’t play again until Oct. 13. Defensive improvements would seem to be the focus of practices during the bye week. The bye week allows several defensive players a chance to get healthy, including defensive back Torin Harris.
Each of the Trojan’s next two opponents — Cal and Notre Dame — will have home-field advantage. Both of them, just like Arizona, will feature offenses ranked in the top 30.
Redshirt junior Curtis McNeal (Venice High) led the Trojans with 74 rushing yards on seven carries against Arizona. McNeal’s day was highlighted by scoring his first career touchdown on a nine-yard run in the fourth quarter that proved to be the Trojans final score of the game.
“I saw the hole and I hit it,” McNeal said after the game. “I was going to score, I was not going to be denied.”
Being denied the chance to score is one thing. Being denied the chance to get in the game is another.
On the season McNeal has 24 carries for 203 yards. That’s an average of 8.5 yards per carry. Redshirt senior Marc Tyler had 24 carries in his first game back from suspension against Utah.
Although McNeal led the Trojans in rushing yards against the Wildcats, he didn’t get his first carry until the third quarter. His 44-yard carry in the fourth quarter was his second run of 40 or more yards this season.
Despite his impressive average, McNeal has had only five carries come in the first half. Regardless, McNeal says that he stays prepared no matter the situation.
“I’m just going to be ready whenever my name is called, no matter if we’re up by 50 or down by 50,” McNeal said. “I’m just trying to make a play whenever my name is called.”
Whoever gets the bulk of the carries, USC’s offense looks to continue being dominated by Barkley and Woods.
Barkley finished the game against Arizona with a school-record 468 passing yards and four touchdowns. Woods led the team with 14 catches for 255 and two touchdowns.
But the Trojans can’t afford to get into offensive shootouts against every opponent — especially with the way the defense is playing. In addition to Cal and Notre Dame, USC also has games against high-powered teams Stanford and Oregon. Trying to put up video game-like numbers on offense against these teams could be too much to ask.
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