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Pete Carroll and Matt Barkley are joined at the hip

Lost in all the hoopla of the win against ucla is the continued scrutiny of the play of Matt Barkley.

Anyone who thought that Barkley would perform like Mark Sanchez did last year has their head in the clouds. Of course nobody thought that way as it is not surprising that Barkley struggled this season. He had some memorable performances but he had some stinkers too.

So, as the season comes to the end it is natural that there will be a closer look at his overall body of work.

Barkley, the first true freshman to start at quarterback for USC under Carroll, goes into Saturday's regular-season finale against Arizona with 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 10 games.

"Compared to how many touchdowns I've thrown and how many attempts I have, it's not acceptable," Barkley said Tuesday of the interceptions. "I've struggled here or there, but I think I've made great strides in different areas."

Barkley was still enjoying the afterglow of the Trojans' 28-7 victory over UCLA, a game he punctuated with a controversial 48-yard touchdown pass to receiver Damian Williams in the final minute.

"That's what is fresh in my mind," Barkley said. "Winning like that and in that fashion just made it for me."

Barkley's season has included several highlights, including an impressive fourth-quarter drive at Ohio State and victories at California and Notre Dame.

But Barkley also struggled during much of the second half of the season.

"I don't really know if it met expectations or not," Barkley said. "At the same time there are a lot of things I learned from this year that I know will be helpful in my career."

The bigger question is what are the expectations and who sets them. You could point to a few things on offense other than Barkley's performance that contributed to a less than impressive offensive showing through out the season. I don't really see any point in rehashing it, we all know what those issues are.

But the one thing that has been brought up time and again has been Pete's Carroll's overt support of Barkley no matter what the situation or outcome. Some see it as favoritism, others see it as protecting Barkley. At this point in the season I am not really sure that it matters but the press has been beating this drum for weeks now...

After a season’s worth of often over-the-top plaudits thrown Barkley’s way, we finally asked Carroll why he has been so overly protective of the freshman.

Carroll’s response? In sum, he knew Barkley would take shots from all angles and didn’t see any reason to pile on. Carroll instead chose to build Barkley up, even if that raised expectations to unrealistic levels.

"I can understand an opinion from the outside that … that puts pressure on him. He doesn’t care about that," Carroll said. "This guy is way beyond this stuff.

"I just said the truth as I knew it. I think he’s going to be a fantastic quarterback. I think he’s going to be extraordinarily successful. This year will pay him back in tremendous dividends in the future.

"Whether you guys buy that, that’s the way I feel about it. I feel really strongly about it."

Carroll remained in max-protect mode Tuesday. He absolved Barkley of blame for the Oregon and Stanford losses, dropping all the responsibility on the run defense. When reminded that Barkley threw three interceptions against the Cardinal, Carroll remained defiant.

Not surprising really...why blow the kids confidence? It is clear that Pete Carroll did not have the required confidence in either Corp or Mustain so he went all in on Barkley and that meant he was going to protect him all costs.

And Pete Carroll does not deny it and he justifies it...

Even though he has praised him profusely, USC coach Pete Carroll conceded Tuesday that he never expected freshman Matt Barkley to play at the same level as previous Trojans quarterbacks under his watch.


"I would have told you, if you’d have asked me, that there’s no way we could have expect he’d be 36 and 8 or something like that, the great numbers that our guys have put up over the years. We wouldn’t have given him a chance to do that. And we haven’t given him a chance to throw the ball that much.

"The overexposure of a first-year guy would cause you to see the numbers in reverse. It’s so hard to do what he’s doing. But I think he’s battled through it. I think he’s done remarkably well. And I think he’s had a very successful first season. It’s shocked all of us that he’s been able to play and contribute as he has. It’s been a thrill to watch him, and you know the upside for the future is going to be tremendous."

I don't really have a problem with it. I have said it many times long as we win I could care less who is at the helm. If Barkley is that guy then I am fine with it. Only Carroll really knows and no amount of criticism from me, Wolf, Klein, Simers, Plaschke, Lev or Maya are going to change it.That is what the coaches get paid for. They have a lot more information at their finger tips all of us combined.

There hasn't been enough balance in the analysis of what else affected this team this season. Injuries, experience, players departing for the NFL and coaches in new roles all played a hand in this difficult season. Couple that with insanely high expectations and it is easy to see how many of us were frustrated. My only real complaint is Pete Carroll's apparent micromanaging of too many things...I felt that it did cloud the message that needed to be passed down to the individual units and I also think that hiring inexperienced assistants played a role too.

Throw it all together and you can see why some are looking for someone or something to blame. Pete Carroll's overt support of Barkley is an easy target.

It is hard not to be impressed with Barkley flashes of poise. It is also easy to get frustrated when he makes is the nature of the fans. I see the same thing here in NYC in regards to Mark Sanchez. Regardless of past results future expectations are always high...especially with USC football.

With one more game to go, before bowl season starts, against a pretty good Arizona defense Carroll and Barkley have a chance to silence their critics...or embolden them.

We find out on Saturday...