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September 5, 2009As far as starts go, USC was pretty awful offensively Saturday at the Coliseum in the season opener with San Jose State.
The Trojans turned the ball over twice. They started back-to-back drives with false starts; they looked timid offensively. And after 15 minutes, No. 4 USC trailed by three.
Then like a rocket booster, USC left San Jose State standing in the wake.
Two rushing touchdowns from Stafon Johnson and scores from Allen Bradford and Joe McKnight in the second quarter turned the game from worrisome into a laugher, as the Trojans rolled 56-3.
"This turned out just right for us," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "... Once we settled down, we played some good football."
San Jose State head coach Dick Tomey said he's seen USC do this kind of thing before.
"For a while, it looked like we could compete. Obviously, it was an illusion," Tomey said. "In the final analysis, they were much better and much better coached than we were.
"... I've seen them do that to too many good teams. I've watched a lot of tape when the game was close, and then suddenly, it was a blowout."
For the first time in USC history, a true freshman came out and started at quarterback in the Trojan opener, and Matt Barkley played admirably despite the early adversity.
McKnight fumbled on USC's second series, and Anthony McCoy fumbled later in the quarter. But those woes would soon be erased by big play after big play.
Barkley finished the day 15-of-19 for 233 yards passing with a touchdown and no interceptions.
"You need to know that Matt Barkley just absolutely handled this," Carroll said. "This wasn't a big deal for him. He was calm; he was poised. He was fun to talk to about what was going on. He had a smile on his face. He loved every minute of it.
"... When you're 15-of-19 and you throw three balls away, that's a pretty darn good day."
Barkley said he didn't lose focus when the offense started slowly in the first quarter, when it managed two first downs against two turnovers.
"We had some bumpy first drives, but we realized there was nothing we could do about it," Barkley said. "After that, we came out rocking."
USC took advantage of good field position and chipped away at the Spartan defense until Barkley found David Ausberry for a 10-yard gain down to the Spartan four. From there, is was Johnson, who ran into the end zone for his first score.
The Trojan defense, which had already forced a fumble early, got another one, giving USC great field position again.
This time, Barkley found Damian Williams for a pair of big gains, setting up another short Johnson touchdown. After a three-and-out, Bradford broke down the sideline for a 43-yard run - the longest of his career. Then right before the end of the half, Barkley led a six-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a McKnight six-yard scoring run.
McKnight would flip into the end zone after a dazzling 54-yard run, and Barkley would find Rhett Ellison for a four-yard touchdown on the way to USC scoring 56-straight points after San Jose State took a 3-0 lead.
Marc Tyler scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, and Aaron Corp found D.J. Shoemate on fourth-and-goal for a 13-yard score to end the scoring.
McKnight led USC with a career-high 145 yards rushing on 14 carries. He also gained 21 yards receiving and 18 yards on a punt return - 184 total.
"Once I got going, they just kept feeding me the ball," McKnight said. "They put me on the edge; they gave it to me up the middle so I could pound it in. The offensive line made holes and great blocks; that's what got me going.
"It felt good."
While the USC offense flashed consistently after the first quarter, the defense dominated for nearly the entire day. Led by Chris Galippo's nine tackles and a staggering 16 tackles for losses as a team, San Jose State couldn't muster any offensive rhythm.
"The first quarter was a good test for us. They scored first and the offense was struggling a little bit, and we had opportunities. We took the ball away. We got big three-and-outs. It was good for us."
Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith are replacing one of the best linebacking corps in recent memory, but Saturday, the three showed they're more than capable. They combined for 17 tackles, including 5.5 for losses.
True freshman Jarvis Jones also added five tackles in his USC debut.
"I really don't think there's going to be a whole lot of a drop off," Galippo said. "I think we're a different group... They had the look. They had the intimidation factor. We're an assignment type of group. We watch a lot of film and do a lot of things right."
With a win under its belt, USC will face No. 6 Ohio State next Saturday in Columbus, Ohio - a much more difficult test than the Spartans were. As the clock showed nothing but zeroes, USC was ready to change gears.
"I'm going to enjoy this win, and then it's on," Will Harris said. "It's Ohio State time. Man, it's on."