For the second time in three games, disaster appeared to be on the horizon for the USC Trojans. They'd given up two big touchdowns in a few minutes thanks to bad snaps by Khaled Holmes, and Utah seemed flush with confidence.
Then Matt Barkley steadied the ship.
USC scored 38 of the next 45 points, and Barkley played a critical part in generating most of those points. USC mounted a 74 yard drive right after the Ute spark, with Barkley going four for four and bringing the Trojans within seven. This pattern persisted for the rest of the game, as Barkley deftly moved the football down the field. He was constantly on the lookout for Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, occasionally finding his tight ends and fullbacks when needed, but in general stayed sharp and found his receivers with only a few missed connections on the night.
It was Barkley who kept on finding Woods and Lee where they could make plays and gain yards after the catch. It was Barkley who led his tight end Randall Telfer on their touchdown connection and helped him Dominique Byrd with a spectacular grab.
It was Barkley who led two steady drives into the red zone to start the second half, but couldn't punch it in either time and saw two field goals sail wide that could've put distance between his team and USC.
So there the Trojans were in the start of the 4th quarter still locked into a dogfight with the Utes. Despite the defense holding Utah's offense to nothing (one first down and 31 total yards on three drives), USC had yet to capitalize, and suddenly they were beginning to run out of weapons. With no Curtis McNeal, with Silas Redd banged up, with Telfer also knocked out of action, and the Trojans only nursing a field goal lead, USC needed some sort of spark to ensure victory.
So Barkley dropped back, got the defenders to sink in, and let one fly.
Given the quality of the opposition, it wasn't an incredible performance by Barkley. He only becomes the latest in a series of FBS quarterbacks to have their way with the Utah pass defense. Other than the dagger throw to Lee, most of Barkley's passes were generally pretty open and in good spots for his receivers to haul in the football. It was plenty of quick screens to soften the Utah front and a few occasional posts down the sideline or in the middle of the field.
But it was a deadly efficient performance. After showing for two weeks that he could be rattled by opposing pressure, Barkley responded much better to pressure from the Utah front. He stepped up into the pocket and delivered with confidence into tighter windows. He managed to distribute the football to his receivers while also making sure a majority of the throws ended up with his receivers.
Most importantly though, what USC got from Barkley was everything that was necessary for victory. USC needed an effective performance from Barkley that took pressure off the USC run game, particularly with McNeal banged up going in and Redd getting banged up during the contest. USC needed Barkley to lead them back when the Trojans fell behind 14-0. USC got everything they could ask from him with the mistakes and injuries and penalties, and they needed it all to ensure victory.
Although there are still many kinks to work out and plenty of depth issues to address, USC can feel confident enough that with Barkley, they still have the offense that can go out and beat anyone. As long as he's the quarterback under center, the Trojans aren't going away.
The big question: Can Barkley keep on putting up performances like these together? Considering how strong the rest of the Pac-12 is, he may very well have to.