The first time Matt Barkley wound up and really let loose with a throw, the Southern California freshman felt sharp pain in his bruised right shoulder.
Just not enough pain to stop him from leading the 12th-ranked Trojans to a bounce-back victory.
"When I had to gun it, I did," Barkley said. "It hurt, but whatever. It's football."
Barkley threw two long touchdown passes in 9 seconds during the first quarter on the way to 247 yards passing, and USC rebounded from its latest upset loss with a 27-6 win over Washington State on Saturday night.
Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson rushed for scores for the Trojans (3-1, 1-1 Pac-10), whose national title hopes were seriously dampened by last week's 16-13 loss at Washington. USC's offense still showed many of the problems exposed last week in Seattle, even with Barkley's return from an injury that isn't fully healed.
"I knew I was going to play through whatever pain there was," Barkley said. "It felt good enough to get the job done. I felt a little limited in my arm strength, but I tried to gun it in when I needed to."
The Trojans' formidable defense had what coach Pete Carroll described as "an easy game." USC made eight sacks, forced three turnovers in the second half and held the rebuilding Cougars (1-3, 0-2) scoreless until Dwight Tardy's TD run with 22 seconds left.
Even the USC defense was paying attention to Barkley, who led the game-winning drive against Ohio State two weeks ago before missing last week's loss.
"With a young quarterback in Matt, we've got to give him as many chances as we can," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "When you're shutting them out and putting all that pressure on the quarterback, we're accomplishing a lot of our goals."
Barkley was healthy enough in his third career start, going 13 for 22 with a handful of sharp downfield throws to Damian Williams, who had five catches for 100 yards, including a 57-yard score.
USC scored three touchdowns in the first 12 minutes, with Barkley throwing a 29-yard TD pass to Brice Butler and his throw to Williams on consecutive plays. Kicker Jacob Harfman adroitly recovered his own onside kick in between.
But in its seventh straight loss to USC, Washington State suffered nothing close to the embarrassment of last season's 69-0 loss to the Trojans. The Cougars defense twice stopped the USC offense on fourth down near the goal line in the second half, preventing a blowout _ and what's more, USC racked up 13 penalties for 115 yards.
"It's good to win, but we've got a lot of work to do," Carroll said. "It was just not the satisfying kind of win that we like to have. We had so many situations where we made it so hard on ourselves."
Freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel took over for Marshall Lobbestael in the second quarter and immediately led a 19-play drive for the Cougars, who dropped to 3-14 in coach Paul Wulff's second season. Tuel got all but 5 of his 130 yards passing in the fourth quarter, when he led a 13-play scoring drive.
"It was an amazing experience, and it meant the world to me to have my teammates getting my back like they did," Tuel said. "I'll learn from everything tonight."
USC's trip to Berkeley next week lost much of its luster with No. 6 California's loss at Oregon, but now the Trojans and Golden Bears will be playing to avoid near-elimination from the conference title race.
McKnight finished a three-play drive by scoring just 2:36 into the first quarter, in which USC outgained Washington State 195-13.
Early in USC's third drive, Barkley threw a beautiful fade to Butler, his talented fellow freshman. Congdon then pooched his kick and fell on it before the Cougars knew what happened, and Barkley promptly hooked up with Williams over the middle for a rambling score.
Barkley even took a mean hit while releasing the ball, but pointed his hands skyward in excitement while flat on his back.
"We can play well sometimes, but we need to sustain it," said All-American safety Taylor Mays, who also returned from injury. "We need to keep putting it on teams, and instead we struggled. Maybe we're still getting better. We don't want to peak yet. We want to keep getting better."
Tuel, a Fresno high school product, nearly redshirted this season before the coaching staff became impressed with how quickly he picked up their offense. The mobile freshman replaced the 2-for-9 Lobbestael, who himself took over for Kevin Lopina last week, and immediately led the Cougars on a clock-consuming 58-yard drive over the final 8:35 of the first half.
But Nico Grasu missed a 34-yard field goal at the halftime whistle, visibly deflating the Cougars.
"It's difficult, but that's what a team is," freshman defensive lineman Travis Long said. "If the offense struggles, the defense steps it up."
USC has won 11 straight at the Coliseum.