LOS ANGELES -- USC struggled early but topped Arizona State on Saturday at the Coliseum, 38-17, to move into position to make the Pac-12 championship game with one more win.
Here's a report card for the Trojans' performance against the Sun Devils:
Can we change the name of this section to Barkley-to-Lee attack? It seemed like Marqise Lee was Matt Barkley's first option on three-quarters of the Trojans' pass plays on Saturday. Where was Robert Woods? Sure, Lee's a better bet, but Woods still deserves to be a consistent part of the offense. Three interceptions tossed by Barkley is, obviously, no good. But the balance was his three touchdown passes.
Curtis McNeal is a very good college running back. It's too bad he didn't get more opportunities to be successful in his senior season, because he has done well every time he has had the chance, including his 100-yard day on Saturday. With Silas Redd out, McNeal shouldered the load and did great until the last-minute fumble.
IN THE TRENCHES
This was good. USC's defensive line looked rejuvenated compared to last week and produced four sacks, with the linebackers getting a few more, too. ASU's run game was nonexistent. On offense, the line wasn't great in the passing game, but McNeal had some nicely cleared spaces to run through.
The turnovers weren't there until late, but the stout run D definitely was there all along. T.J. McDonald's interception helped early and Leonard Williams' and Lamar Dawson's late picks sealed the deal. But USC might need more than that the next two weeks against UCLA and Notre Dame. It still seemed like Arizona State threw too easily early.
John Baxter's unit has had two consecutive strong weeks, and Tony Burnett's forced fumble on an Arizona State kick return was the type of big play the Trojans were lacking last week. (Of course, Barkley squandered the turnover on the ensuing play with a turnover of his own.) Burnett's force was still big. USC didn't do anything wrong here.
USC started terribly, and some of that has to go on the head coach. Lane Kiffin's play calling was very questionable, at times, as well -- such as the second consecutive bubble screen he called that led directly to one of Barkley's picks. But, ultimately, his team straightened things out in the third quarter.