USC coach Pete Carroll, knowing full well the potential ramifications of his decision, opted to tab true freshman Matt Barkley as his starting quarterback.
That choice will place Barkley at the mercy of 105,000-plus scarlet crazies at The Horseshoe on Saturday when the Trojans try to annihilate Ohio State for a second consecutive season.
Barkley struggled during the first quarter of USC’s opener with San Jose State, completing two of four passes for 20 yards, as the men of Troy trailed, 3-0. However, he quickly adjusted to the grand stage, finishing 15-19 for 233 yards and a touchdown in USC’s 56-3 mauling.
“I thought their young quarterback demonstrated a command that might have been beyond his years,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
Like a veteran, Barkley makes wise decisions with the football, and finds ways to utilize the strengths of the weapons around him, Tressel said.
“He’s got some great people around him,” he said. “He recognizes that, and distributes the ball very well and gets them in the right place.”
The Buckeyes defense wants to make Barkley as uncomfortable as possible.
“The key to the game of defensive football is applying pressure,” Tressel said. “Without a doubt, that young man is far enough along that if he has a chance to just stand around, he’s not going to miss. He knows where his guys are going. If he has time, he’s going to complete it.”
Ohio State sacked Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs just twice in the Bucks’ 31-27 victory on Saturday.
Triple Option Fallout
The OSU defense struggled at times to contain Navy’s run-heavy triple option attack. The Midshipmen had drives of 99 and 85 yards, the latter lasting all of one play.
Few teams employ an offensive scheme similar to Navy’s, but Tressel holds that the defense must be graded and scrutinized like any other game.
“One might have thought, ‘let’s not even grade the Navy film for our defense, because they’ll never see that again, at least for 11 more games.’ But that’s not the case. We had to talk about what we taught, what we executed, why we succeeded, why we didn’t.”
USC might not use the triple option, but they manage quite well with a basic mix of run and pass using a plethora of five-star recruits and future NFL Draft picks.
“They present a whole big set of problems that you have to have solutions for,” Tressel said.
A 35-3 kick in the behind would certainly be enough to motivate anyone, but Tressel isn’t focusing much on last year’s game to rally his troops this time around.
“There will be some guys that will say, ‘I hope I do this or that better,’ but I hope they would have said that the week following that game [last year]. As a whole, will we sit and pound on the fact that we weren’t successful? No.”
Tressel said players choose to attend Ohio State in large part because of the desire to play in such nationally hyped games, serving as their own motivation.
“When our kids looked at coming to Ohio State, over the last four or five years, when they could look at playing in a great conference like the Big Ten and having some of these national stage games sprinkled in the schedule over the years, it’s what makes it special.”
Caution: Dealing with explosives
The Trojans planted 56 points on San Jose State in the final three quarters of Saturday’s opener. Their offense features unmatched depth at running back and receiver, and a stellar offensive line.
Their playmakers on offense contribute to the team racking up many large gains, Tressel said.
“They have an excellent knack of coming up with what we call ‘explosive gains,'” he said. “They might go a couple gains and it’s business as usual, and then, boom, all of a sudden it’s a 17-yarder.”
The key to minimizing the damage of those outbursts is to limit turnovers on offense, Tressel said.
“They hit us with a couple big ones [last year], but probably the thing that affected our defense more than anything was the fact that we turned it over on offense.”
Status of Small, Posey still unknown
Tressel touched briefly on the injury statuses of receivers DeVier Posey and Ray Small. Posey left Saturday’s game with a tweaked ankle, and, according to Tressel, should return to practice before the end of the week.
Small, who missed the Navy game with an undisclosed sickness, is slowly returning to full strength, Tressel said. His status for Saturday night’s contest was unknown.