SAN FRANCISCO -- Asked after the game how he thought he performed in USC's 30-9 win over Cal at AT&T Park on Thursday night, Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley cut right to the chase.
"Alright," Barkley said. "Just alright.
"Not good enough to win big games, but always stuff to improve on."
That tells the majority of the story right there. Barkley wasn't terrible -- it's hard to be terrible at the college level if you don't throw a pick. But he wasn't good, either -- completing only 19-of-35 passes for a 54 percent completion percentage, his worst rate in a win since November 2009 against Arizona State. He didn't have a game worse than 53 percent all last season.
Barkley knows the meaning of what happened in the San Francisco Giants' stadium Thursday night. He knows that, while the Trojans won comfortably over Cal, they may actually have regressed on offense heading into what could end up being the most important game of their season. He knows that another 54 percent clip against the Irish in eight days will almost certainly mean a Notre Dame win in South Bend.
That's sort of the short-story-told-long of his initial comment, and that's why he was so perturbed about the way he played.
"When you play football, you play to win," Barkley said Thursday. "If we're winning, I'm fine with that.
"But we just can't let mistakes happen over and over again against better teams because then that will hurt us. We really have to get it more fine-tuned."
Unlike earlier points this season, most of the mistakes this week were his. The offensive line wasn't great, no, but it's not going to get any better than it was Thursday. And there were only one or two notable dropped passes from receivers as opposed to the usual four or five.
The biggest errors: two overthrows of Robert Woods, both on deep balls for what would probably have been touchdowns and at least would have been 40-yard gainers. There were also some uncharacteristically off passes to other options, too, making for a quite-bad quarterback day all-around combined with Cal's Zach Maynard's poor play.
Altogether, it just wasn't very impressive. And Barkley didn't even remember the best throw he made all game afterward, the 39-yard scoring pass to Marqise Lee.
"Little things were off," Barkley said by way of explaining went wrong. "Some plays I would throw downfield to a receiver who was tight and then the X receiver wound up wide open on the other side and he could have scored or different things where I put a little too much air under it or not enough or I had to step one way or the other and it threw the timing off on the play."
Asked for his own evaluation of Barkley's play Thursday, Kiffin deferred to his signal-caller and captain, but it was clear he wasn't overly pleased either.
The two men often see eye to eye, and, although it's going to go unsaid in public, they both know that he needs to be better to beat (1) Notre Dame this upcoming week and (2) Stanford the next week.