Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Heading into the home-heavy schedule in 2011, the objective for USC was a simple one: take care of business at the Coliseum.
While it hasn't always looked pretty thus far, after a 38-17 blowout win over Syracuse on Saturday, the Trojans leave the comfy season-opening, three-game home stand virtually unscathed by the competition. With three victories now behind them, USC must look ahead to next weekend and the first road test of the season against Pac-12 South foe ASU.
"We just need to get these young guys ready to play mentally," redshirt junior left tackle Matt Kalil said. "For most of the guys on this team, that atmosphere is going to be very different. It's definitely going to be a loud stadium knowing ASU fans, so the responsibility lies heavily on Khaled [Holmes] and myself to help the offensive line out when they look to us."
Junior quarterback Matt Barkley will enter next Saturday's game at Sun Devil Stadium red hot after his stellar performance against the Orange. Barkley's five touchdowns (to five different receivers) tied both a career and school record for most in a single game. Yet, the Trojans' gunslinger is well aware of what he will face in Tempe, AZ.
"I am ready for it," said Barkley. "I almost like the road games better than being at home because you can feel the energy of the crowd hating you. We will practice hard all week with crowd noise and be ready to go."
In his only road appearance against the Sun Devils in November 2009 (photo by OC Register), Barkley threw a career-low nine completions for 112 yards in a 13-9 victory. While he has vastly improved since that freshman year road trip, the junior knows full well the challenge that lies ahead for young offensive weapons Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.
"We have to get this team ready in practice," said Barkley. "Some of these young guys will need to take learn from their mistakes quickly, because we can't be jumping offsides, especially with a road crowd making it hard for them to hear me."
Even though the Trojans will hit the road with a record of 3-0, there is still concern as to how some of the inexperienced starters will react to playing in front of hostile fans. Redshirt freshman Dion Bailey (who led USC with nine tackles vs. Syracuse) admits that while he enjoys the home cooking of the Coliseum, it's time for the team to be tested away from Troy.
"To be honest, I can't wait for this," said Bailey. "I have wanted this first road game to come since the season started. Now that I have been able to get comfortable playing at home, I am ready for the hostile environment. My focus won't be on the crowd noise, the atmosphere or all of the hype surrounding the game, because when I am out there, my only task is to play my game.
After an electric 37-30 overtime win against Missouri in week two, ASU faltered on Saturday night, losing 17-14 at Illinois. Although USC currently is a game ahead in the Pac-12 South standings, Lane Kiffin hasn't been shy when praising the Trojans' next opponent.
"I think they are a great team and have been for some time," said Kiffin. "Especially on defense, they have a roster full of great players who can shut you down. They are extremely explosive with the quarterback in the passing game, so they will be a really good opponent to have early on. But, I feel good about our chances as long as we continue to practice hard and improve."