Barkley, USC looking to finish with a bang

Trojans have improved in late-game situations and look to show it against Washington, which has won last two meetings with field goals as time expired.

LOS ANGELES – When USC failed to put away Washington in the fourth quarter last season, it was a preview of late-game struggles to come.

Quarterback Matt Barkley missed a pair of throws by just inches, one a would-be touchdown pass to wide receiver David Ausberry, the other for tight end Jordan Cameron that would have resulted in a first down and forced the Huskies to burn their timeouts.

Instead, the Trojans led 31-29 with 2:34 left to play after Joe Houston missed a 40-yard field goal, setting the stage for quarterback Jake Locker to convert a fourth and 11, running back Chris Polk to rush for 37 yards, and Erik Folk to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired for the second consecutive season for a 32-31 stunner.

It was the first of three last-minute losses for USC, a trend head coach Lane Kiffin was determined to reverse this season by emphasizing conditioning, taking advantage of increased scholarship numbers for depth, and better preparing for end-of-game scenarios.

So far, so good.

USC (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) has fared much better in all regards this year. There was the critical interception against Minnesota, the blocked field goal against Utah, the tough running by tailback Curtis McNeal to grind out the clock against California and Notre Dame.

Of course, a pessimist would point to the fourth-quarter implosion at Arizona State and the game-tying drive engineered by Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, as the Cardinal would prevail in triple overtime.

Quarterback Matt Barkley disagrees.

"I feel more comfortable in those situations, those tight situations and I think we've better equipped to finish a game out if we're in that situation this year," he said.

"I think we're better than we were last year and better than we were at the beginning of this year as far as a team playing better in fourth quarters for the most part," Kiffin added.

It's a trend USC wants to continue Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum (12:45 p.m., FX) against a Washington program clearly on the rise and break a two-game losing streak to former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

To do so, they will need to stop quarterback Keith Price, who threw a touchdown last season against USC in relief of Locker. The sophomore from Compton and prepped at Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco has thrown for 2,133 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this season.

But Price was rattled by Oregon's zone-blitzes last week, taking six sacks and throwing two interceptions. As cornerback Nickell Robey noted, the Ducks "stirred up a lot of confusion.

"We just got to make sure we get pressure on him. We disguise, make him see one thing and we do another and try to get some picks," said Robey, who will have five members of his family in attendance to mark his late mother Maxine's birthday.

"Once that pressure get on you and the defense is flying around, it's a whole different story."

Pressure likely won't be a major concern for Barkley, as the Washington (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) defense is allowing 33.4 points per game and has 15 sacks on the season.

The junior has thrown for 28 touchdowns against six interceptions and has a chance to match Matt Leinart's school and conference-record 38 scoring throws.

With his draft stock heating up, there is plenty of speculation whether Barkley will bypass his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL. For his part, he is more concerned with closing out this season on a strong note.

"I've said I want to finish this season out with a bang so that decision is an easy decision, not that I want to leave with a bang, like get out of here and leave on that note," Barkley said

"Still got three games left. That's a lot of football left and then I'll have a lot to think about." Top Stories