Barkley, Trojans out to 'finish strong'

USC and Arizona should enter game on different sides of emotional spectrum.

How will they respond?

That's been the question facing USC seemingly every week this season. It was asked before Hawaii, the Trojans' first game following NCAA sanctions, after losses as time expired to Washington and Stanford, then again after falling to top-ranked Oregon.

Now it might rest with USC's opponent this Saturday, Arizona (5 p.m., ABC).

The Wildcats (7-2, 4-2 Pac-10) were smashed at Stanford, extinguishing any hopes of the program making its first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl.

Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, while Stanford rushed for 217 yards, giving USC (6-3, 3-3 Pac-10) the blueprint to attack what had been one of the conference's stingier defenses.

"Stanford, they were physical with them," running back Marc Tyler said. "That's what you got to be. You got to be able to control the line of scrimmage because Arizona's defensive line is the root of that whole defense."

Then again, USC is coming off an emotional high, a wild back-and-forth win over Arizona State in which a last-second field goal finally missed.

The Trojans are also dealing with the physical effects of a taxing season and limited numbers. Marshall Jones is expected to start at safety in place of Jawanza Starling, left tackle Matt Kalil barely practiced this week with a sprained ankle and several USC running backs, including Tyler who rushed for 119 yards last week, are also banged up.

That represents a major issue given how good the Arizona defensive ends are, with senior starters Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore combining for 13.5 sacks this season.

"Relentless effort," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "They just don't take downs off."

"This is going to be the most challenged we are as tackles, me and Tyron," Kalil said. "These are really good guys, high motor guys. They are probably the best we'll face all year."

If the protection holds up, quarterback Matt Barkley should find opportunities to make plays against aggressive corners that can find themselves susceptible to double moves. However, the sophomore has thrown a pair of interceptions in each of his last two games and missed on several deep balls.

"He gets so anxious to make plays all the time," Kiffin said. "It's been an up-and-down season that way."

Of his goals for these final four games, Barkley said, "More consistency and just finish strong I think.

"Last year, besides the Emerald Bowl, I don't think we finished strong or I finished strong. So that's what I'm planning to do these last four games is to go out with a bang, finish strong, not die down or get complacent or hit the wall."

That would represent a departure from 2009, as demonstrated by Arizona's win on senior day at the Coliseum with a second-place finish in the Pac-10 and a berth in the Holiday Bowl on the line.

Barkley threw for just 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while his Wildcats counterpart Nick Foles had 239 yards and accounted for all three scores, including the game-winning 36-yard touchdown to Juron Criner.

The Trojans were just 5 of 13 on third down in what would be Pete Carroll's final home game. Kiffin said avoiding opportunities for Reed and Elmore to pin their ears back and rush the passer is critical.

"If you watched them (Stanford), there were a bunch of third and fours, third and fives, third and threes, third and twos, so they stayed in manageable down and distances," he said. Top Stories