USC outscores Hawaii in Kiffin’s debut
HONOLULU – Finally, some good news for Southern California football.
Matt Barkley and Ronald Johnson connected on three touchdowns to make Lane Kiffin a winner in his first game as Southern California coach. No. 14 USC beat Hawaii 49-36 on Thursday night to start the post-Pete Carroll era.
Barkley passed for 257 yards and tied a school record with five TD passes while Johnson matched a USC mark with his three TD catches. Johnson also returned a punt 89 yards for another score in USC’s first game after being hit hard with sanctions by the NCAA that include a postseason ban this season.
“It’s huge for our whole team, for coach Kiffin, for the program, for all of the guys, it’s big time,” Barkley said. “It’s awesome, but it’s just a start.”
Johnson’s two scores in the third quarter, a 3-yard catch and the punt return, helped break the game open for the Trojans (1-0), who took a 42-23 lead into the fourth.
“We got rid of those jitterbugs and I feel like everybody came out and did their best,” Johnson said. “It feels great. (Kiffin) is a great coach and he deserves it.”
Marc Tyler sealed the win a 44-yard run late in the game. He finished with 154 yards on 17 carries.
“We gave up the big play. Their receivers were better than our corners and made some big plays,” Hawaii coach Greg McMackin said. “We can’t do that. We have to roll to them, we have to double them or we have do something because we can’t let those big mothers run up the sideline and push a guy down.”
While USC’s offense looked potent as ever, the defense allowed Hawaii to hang in the game. The Trojans just couldn’t stop the Warriors, who gained 588 yards to USC’s 524.
Kiffin wasn’t as thrilled with the performance as his players were.
“Defensively, we didn’t play very well obviously,” he said. “I’m really disappointed with everything in general, but important than anything was the (lack of) discipline.”
The game marked the USC return of Kiffin, who rejoined the program after a year with Tennessee and 20 games with the Oakland Raiders. Before that, he served as a USC assistant for six seasons under Carroll.
Kiffin’s offense was able to move the ball effectively, but the USC defense showed some holes against Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense. Maybe knowing he needed as many points as he could get to win, Kiffin decided to go for 2-point conversions after USC’s first three touchdowns.
“We had some good things (but) we’ve got a long way to go … the good thing is we didn’t have any injuries and we’re 1-0,” Kiffin said.
Barkley, who was spotty last year as a freshman starter, was sharp and efficient in the first game of his highly-anticipated sophomore season. He completed his first seven passes and finished 18 of 23 before sitting out the final minutes.
He becomes the fifth USC player to toss five TDs in a game and the first since Mark Sanchez in 2008 against Washington State.
USC scored on its first three possessions with Barkley going 9 for 10 with three TDs. The Trojans took a 20-3 lead early in the second quarter on Barkley’s 6-yard pass to a stretching Rhett Ellison.
Barkley connected with David Ausberry on a 46-yard TD pass play on the Trojans’ opening drive. Barkley found Ausberry singled-covered in the right flat around the Hawaii 35, and Ausberry tossed aside Lametrius Davis before sprinting into the end zone.
Hawaii (0-1) never quit but seemed to lose steam when quarterback Bryant Moniz was knocked out of the game late in the third quarter from a hard hit by Michael Morgan. Moniz was injured on a 13-yard scramble that set up a 1-yard TD run by Alex Green to cut USC’s lead to 11 with 1:54 left in the third.
Moniz, who was taken to the locker room and examined for a possible concussion, was replaced by backup Brent Rausch. He was ineffective and replaced by Shane Austin, who threw two scores in the fourth.
Moniz was 18 of 36 for 269 yards and a touchdown. He also had 38 yards rushing.
The Warriors were led by Kealoha Pilares, who had five catches for 176 yards and three TDs two coming late in the game. Greg Salas, who gave the USC defense fits with his size, had eight catches for 124 yards.
USC improved to 7-0 against Hawaii. The Trojans also opened at Aloha Stadium in 1999 and 2005, winning by an average margin of 50 points.
Thursday night’s game was put in question when the NCAA hit USC with crippling penalties that included a two-year bowl ban and four years of probation. The NCAA also banned USC from playing a 13th game this and next season, but later delayed the penalty to avoid forcing Hawaii to cancel the game.