LOS ANGELES (AP) –– Robert Woods and Matt Barkley are closing in on two remarkable records at Southern California.
Even with the way Colorado’s defense has played lately, the No. 11 Trojans say they aren’t planning their celebration just yet.
With its national title dreams still somewhat realistic, USC (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) finally returns to the Coliseum on Saturday for just its second home game in seven weeks. The Trojans are a 40-point favorite against the Buffaloes (1-5, 1-2), who have yielded more than 45 points per game since their season opener.
“We’re trying to treat it like they’re another top team,” Woods said.
Even with ample evidence to the contrary — and even with history in reach.
With 96 career touchdown passes heading into his 43rd career start, Barkley needs four TDs to pass Matt Leinart for the USC and conference career marks. A big chunk of those throws have gone to Woods, whose pending achievement is even more spectacular: He needs just five catches to surpass Dwayne Jarrett’s 216, making him USC’s career leader midway through his junior season.
“Growing up watching all the USC receivers — Jarrett, Steve Smith, Mike Williams, all those great guys — it’s special to be a part of that,” Woods said. “It’s a blessing that I could do it in just 2 1/2 (seasons). I hope I can do it on Saturday at home.”
With 36 catches for 360 yards and five touchdowns this year, Woods’ performances haven’t been as eye-popping they were in his All-American sophomore season, albeit for a variety of reasons. Opposing defenses have been daring the Trojans to run the ball since their season opener, blatantly sitting back in unbalanced pass defenses to limit Woods and Marqise Lee, who still has 54 catches of his own for 681 yards and seven scores.
“It is different than last year, but I have a different role,” Woods said. “Marqise emerged as a top receiver. We’ve got a great running game. I have to do different things to make us successful … and I care about winning games most of all.”
Barkley and Woods are hoping coach Lane Kiffin will allow them to unleash the passing game that tormented defenses down the stretch last season. Kiffin has been content to grind out wins with USC’s running game and a sturdy defense — and though Barkley’s Heisman Trophy candidacy is on life support, his chances of playing in a January bowl for the first time are still healthy.
“I’m certainly having a good time,” Barkley said. “From now, our goal is to win out for the rest of the season.”
It all starts Saturday at the sold-out Coliseum, where football-starved USC fans begin a delicious stretch of four games in six weeks, including a showdown with Oregon in two weeks and culminating in Notre Dame’s post-Thanksgiving visit. Yet the Trojans aren’t looking past the Buffaloes, who are trying to relish the long odds they’re facing in their first Coliseum visit since 2000.
“I want to play the best, and they have the best guys, some of the best guys in the nation,” Colorado safety Parker Orms said. “Matt Barkley, the receivers, even their running back, their whole team are NFL guys, and I just want to see how I can match up against them. I know our guys aren’t afraid.”
Orms was disappointed when the Buffaloes didn’t face Stanford’s Andrew Luck in their first season in the Pac-12. Barkley’s numbers haven’t been prolific this season, but he burnished his reputation during USC’s visit to Boulder last season, throwing a school-record six touchdown passes in a 42-17 victory that kept USC perfect in its six meetings with the Buffs.
Colorado coach Jon Embree realizes the hazards of taking on USC’s passing game after what it did to the Buffaloes last season, and he’s not professing any secret knowledge about how to shut down Barkley, Woods and Lee.
“Well, to keep them in check, don’t let them play,” Embree said. “You’re not going to keep them in check.”
USC’s defense also hopes to build on its strong season, culminating in an impressive effort at Washington last weekend. The Trojans have given up just 111 points all season, while the Colorado defense gave up 51 last week alone.
With a full week at home after back-to-back road trips and a bye, the Trojans are hopeful they’ve moved back into their groove.
“Just because we’re a 40-point favorite doesn’t mean we have a week off,” USC safety T.J. McDonald said. “We’re creating good habits and making sure we still pay attention.”
Embree realizes the California recruits attending Saturday’s game might not be terribly enticed by the Buffaloes if they’re getting pounded by USC. But even if a blowout ensues, the Colorado coach is looking for players who understand it won’t always be this way.
“They need to understand that we are not instant oatmeal,” Embree said. “We are not just adding water and going. So if that’s what they’re looking for, then this is not the place for them. If they want to be a part of something special and help build something, those are the things we talk about.”