Barkley's maturation takes another step

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

BERKELEY, Calif. -- The Matt Barkley Experience is moving forward. It's not taking baby steps. That sells his rapid maturation short. But, as prodigies go, USC's touted true freshman quarterback is not yet blowing anyone's mind.

His performance in USC's methodical 30-3 demolition of California suggested that he and the Trojans aren't going away quietly in 2009, either in the Pac-10 or, perhaps, in the national race.

Barkley completed 20 of 35 passes for 283 yards against Cal. He tossed an interception, which was basically him just launching a ball skyward and hoping his gleaming smile might guide it to somebody in the right jersey. That experiment failed.

He was good enough to win, though, and even better than that at times.

"He is playing as good of football as anybody we have ever had, already," coach Pete Carroll said.

Holy Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez -- that's high praise!

The No. 7 Trojans piled up 457 yards but only scored two offensive touchdowns. Jordon Congdon was called on to boot three field goals of under 30 yards when the offensive sputtered in the redzone.

No worries.

"If our defense is playing like that, then we don't need a whole lot of offense," Barkley noted.

That's true. USC's defense entered the game ranked among the national leaders in nearly every category and it surely will rise a couple of clicks after nearly pitching a shutout and holding the Bears to a scant 285 yards.

Cal running back Jahvid Best never got any momentum, finishing with just 47 yards rushing, and that basically was the end of the Bears struggling offense -- which, by the way, also scored only a field goal a week ago at Oregon.

"We never let him get into a rhythm," Carroll said. "Because of that they had to pass the football, and that's what we wanted."

Best was outplayed by USC's Joe McKnight, who had 119 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns.

While the Trojans defense is almost completely rebuilt from last year, Carroll always puts together a good defense. Barkley is the main source of intrigue, and his ability to quickly grow with the offense will probably reveal whether USC is going to win an eighth consecutive Pac-10 title or yield the floor to another team.

Barkley said the bruised shoulder he suffered at Ohio State that forced him to sit out the upset defeat at Washington is "feeling a lot better."

It also feels good that Carroll and play-caller Jeremy Bates are allowing him to throw the ball downfield more.

"I think they've had faith the whole time, but they've decided to open up the playbook now," Barkley said.

Barkley obviously likes finding his tight ends -- Anthony McCoy and Blake Ayles combined to catch four passes for 66 yards. And he really likes getting the ball to playmaker Damian Williams, who hauled in eight passes for 101 yards in addition to going 66 yards for a touchdown on a punt return.

Barkley also figures to get a kick out of speedster receiver Ronald Johnson, who will return to practice during the bye week and may play at Notre Dame on Oct. 17.

USC started the week dealing with the serious neck injury suffered by running back Stafon Johnson. Johnson required emergency surgery after dropping a 275-pound bar on his throat while doing bench press.

Johnson's absence was felt in the redzone -- he's the designated touchdown-maker. And everywhere else.

"He was in our hearts the whole time," Barkley said.

Johnson's condition has improved dramatically. And so has the Trojans.

While there's immediate work ahead, it now appears that the biggest turn in the conference this year will happen when the Trojans visit Oregon on Oct. 31.