Barkley keeps USC's focus on Cal, not rankings

Associated Press Modified: September 21, 2012 at 5:03 pm •  Published: September 21, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Matt Barkley apparently figured one way he could help Southern California bounce back from a disheartening loss at Stanford was with an unusual blast of bravado.

So the star quarterback went on Twitter on Thursday and declared: "It's bear hunting season."

The 13th-ranked Trojans (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) look to save their season when they face California (1-2) for the 100th time Saturday. Perhaps Barkley — the four-year starter known for his humility and piety — was just making sure everybody knows the stakes.

Perfection is no longer a possibility for USC. Another loss will finish the preseason No. 1 team's national title dreams, and could end USC's Pac-12 championship hopes as well.

Barkley didn't return to USC for his senior season to play in a second-tier bowl game after the Trojans' two-year bowl ban ended, but that's what USC will be facing with even one more loss over the final two months of the season.

The Trojans still have most of the ingredients for a title contender. Barkley is betting they can still put it all together.

"I wasn't expecting that was going to happen this year," Barkley said. "You've got to make sure it's a quick turnaround."

The Trojans realize they'll have to get right back on top of their game to earn their ninth straight win over the Golden Bears, who are coming off their own seven-point road loss last week with considerably more optimism. Cal nearly beat Ohio State, yet realizes the Coliseum is every bit as tough as the Horseshoe — particularly when the Trojans are seriously motivated.

"I feel like every time we play them, they're coming off a dramatic loss," Cal safety Josh Hill said. "So we know we're going to get their best effort. I know Matt Barkley. He's not going to have another bad game like that unless we force him to, so they're going to come out 100 percent ready to go. We just have to match their intensity."

USC's offensive struggles this season have been easy to trace. Most are emanating from the line, which didn't have injured center Khaled Holmes last week.

The young line allowed Barkley to be constantly harassed and failed to establish the run, allowing Stanford to shut out USC for the final 41 minutes. USC's defense played fairly well, but was worn down by the Cardinal's running game — not a good omen going against another opponent with three talented ball-carriers.

"You can't let last week affect this week," Trojans defensive tackle George Uko said. "Even the best fighters get knocked down. You've got to get back up."

USC's talented receivers and tailbacks never got going last week, largely limited by what the offensive line couldn't do. The stars were careful not to directly criticize the line this week, choosing to encourage the growing group.