Tempe, Ariz. – It wasn’t a particularly sharp performance for USC Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium, but it was a win.
The Trojans entered the game bruised and battered, and were happy to end their brutal road schedule by holding the Sun Devils’ offense in check all night, while scoring just enough to pull out a 14-9 victory over Arizona State.
“We came in here and shut them down for the most part, got a bunch of turnovers, scored on defense,” linebacker Chris Galippo said. “It was a big deal for us.”
After getting plenty of criticism for allowing 47 points a week ago, the USC defense responded with one of their better performances of the season, forcing four turnovers and coming up with a touchdown of their own.
“All week we were talking about coming back and being the defense that we were at the beginning of the year,” Galippo said. “It’s a huge step for us just to say that we were going to do something and we did it.”
Safety Will Harris led the way, securing two of Arizona State’s four turnovers.
Harris got the Trojans on the board late in the first half by stepping in front of a Danny Sullivan pass that was intended for Kyle Williams, and racing 55-yards the other way for a score.
With USC’s offense struggling to gain yards, Harris’ interception return was just the momentum change that the Trojans needed and allowed them to take a 7-3 lead in to the half.
“That was the huge play in the game for us,” Pete Carroll said. “Nothing had happened in the first half, they just got their field goal, and then we answered with a touchdown on defense, which is incredibly fun.”
Harris’ second interception came on the final play of the game and sealed USC’s victory. The senior defensive back finished the night with 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and a pass breakup.
Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley had arguably his roughest performance as a starter and never looked comfortable in the pocket. The first-year signal caller completed just 7-of-22 pass attempts for 112 yards.
“The offense held us in it a couple of times, the Oregon State game and Notre Dame, so we owed them one,” Galippo said after the win.
While Harris came up big for the defense in the first half, it was junior wide receiver Damian Williams that sparked the offense at the start of the third quarter.
USC’s offense was sluggish all night, putting up just 76 yards of total offense in the first half of play, and continues to be plagued by costly penalties in key situations. But Williams came up with the play of the game on the first series of the second half.
The junior wide receiver took a short pass from Barkley, crisscrossed his way through the defense and down the sideline, before diving into the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown that proved to be the difference in the game.
“I don’t know that we have seen a better play than Damian’s play,” Carroll said. “This guy is a really good open field runner. That was a spectacular play and a great finish.”
Williams has been the Trojans’ most consistent offensive player this season, and he stepped up once again Saturday night, before leaving the game with a sprained ankle.
Williams’ 75-yard touchdown was just one yard less than the Trojans total offensive output in the first half, and accounted for more than half of the Barkley’s 112 passing yards.
After coming up with a detailed game plan that was somehow lost in translation against Oregon, Pete Carroll went back to basics this week and it resulted in an impressive defensive performance.
“Coach went back to the basic calls,” Harris said. “He just went to the basic schemes and we executed them very well.”
Carroll added: “On this night it took a huge defensive effort.”