Blame the socks.
After a pregame dispute with Southern California coach Lane Kiffin over the color of his socks, Ronald Johnson, who was told he couldn’t wear the black ones he wanted, took out his frustration on Hawaii with a career-high four touchdowns in a 49-36 win last night at Aloha Stadium.
The senior receiver caught seven passes for 59 yards and three scores and added an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown to make a winner out of Lane Kiffin in his head-coaching debut with the Trojans.
"He wasn’t happy with me because I told him he couldn’t wear black socks," said Kiffin, who left Tennessee after one year to replace Pete Carroll, who is now coaching the Seattle Seahawks. "It was like a 15-minute ordeal before the game."
Johnson was USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s favorite target, especially in the red zone, where he had all three touchdown catches.
But his biggest play came on special teams after Hawaii battled back from an early 20-3 deficit to pull within 11 midway through the third quarter.
With Hawaii defenders bearing down on him, he thought only briefly of signaling for a fair catch.
Instead, Johnson caught the Alex Dunnanchie punt in traffic, ripped through multiple defenders and raced toward the end zone for the most important of his four touchdowns.
"I felt like I was going to get hit hard," Johnson said. "Once I get it was like, ‘OK, I got to make a play’ and I got some big blocks which sprung me loose."
The Warriors defense had no answer for Johnson, whether it be on special teams or on defense. Barkley, who tied a school record with five touchdown passes, found Johnson on three of them, tying another record.
The sophomore quarterback, who won the starting job as a true freshman a year ago, showed marked improvement from his first year to the next.
He finished 18-for-23 for 257 yards, completing all seven of his passes in the first quarter.
"I’ve told you guys I’ve grown a lot since last year, and to have it finally show in a game like this is very satisfying," Barkley said. "In all aspects of our offense we played really well."
USC averaged 7.0 yards a carry, piling up 246 yards on the ground. When it came to putting the ball in the end zone however, Kiffin put the ball in the hands of his quarterback.
"The plan wasn’t to come here and run the ball," Kiffin said. "We wanted to let Matt throw the ball around and let our offense understand that we want them to be an explosive offense."
As successful as the Trojans were moving the ball, they were unable to stop Hawaii from doing the same. USC, which has 25 former defensive players currently on NFL rosters, gave up a staggering 588 yards of total offense.
Even after knocking UH’s top two quarterbacks out of the game, third-stringer Shane Austin still shredded the Trojans’ defense for 141 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"(Hawaii) is not a great matchup for us on defense," Kiffin said. "We got spread out all over the field.
"I’m very disappointed because we didn’t (win) in the style we want to."