It helps to be blessed with a rocket arm, good footwork, and pocket presence, but as Andrew Luck and David Carr can attest, it's a lot easier to play quarterback from an upright position. USC quarterback Matt Barkley has learned the virtues of playing behind an offensive line that keeps his jersey clean, too.
Barkley and the Trojans continue their 2011 Revenge Tour on Saturday when they host Luck and the Cardinal, who boast the gold standard of offensive lines. (After Stanford gashed Washington for 446 rushing yards on Saturday, it's funny to think that some fans, myself included, considered the offensive line one of the question marks entering the season.) Like Stanford, USC graduated three members of its offensive line and faced questions about the inexperienced new starters during the spring and fall. Through five games, the Trojans have allowed four sacks, which ties them with Oregon for fifth-fewest in the country, and puts them on pace to better last year's 18 sacks allowed. (Stanford has allowed two sacks this season.)
Barkley hasn't been sacked since the Trojans' 43-22 loss to Arizona State on September 24. In the three games since then, the junior has completed 75-of-109 passes (64%) for 887 yards, 10 touchdowns, and one interception. For the season, Barkley ranks 15th in passing efficiency and has thrown 19 TDs against four interceptions.
The Trojans haven't faced a pass rush like Stanford's. In fact, both USC and Stanford have played three of the schools that rank in the bottom five nationally in sacks per game -- UCLA, Arizona, San Jose State, and Minnesota. The Cardinal's ability to get to the quarterback has been a real key to its defensive success this season. Led by junior linebacker Chase Thomas, who has 5.5 sacks, the Cardinal ranks fourth in the country in sacks per game (3.57).
Each team registered a single sack in last year's meeting, which Stanford won on a field goal by Nate Whitaker with 4 seconds left. Luck was more efficient than Barkley in that game -- passing for 285 yards and three touchdowns on only 24 attempts, but Barkley and stud wide receiver Robert Woods hooked up for 224 of the Trojans' 390 yards through the air.
Barkley and Woods have picked up where they left off last year. Woods already has 72 receptions for 902 yards and eight touchdowns and is coming off a 12-catch, two-TD performance in the Trojans' 31-17 win at Notre Dame. If Stanford can't put Barkley on his back at least a few times, it could be a long day for the Cardinal secondary.