MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Lane Kiffin of the USC Trojans congratulates quarterback Matt Barkley #7 after a touchdown during the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on September 18 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
For once during this 2010 USC football season, I'm smiling. No, not the type of widening grin you'd expect to see following a national championship, Rose Bowl victory, or seasonal win over UCLA. But the type of smirk that conveys a feeling of contentment. Because, for once this year, I'm satisfied with a win.
The offense wasn't putrid like it was during the home opener against Virginia. Allen Bradford finally appeared healthy, rushing for 131 yards on 12 carries in replacement for the starting Marc Tyler. Matt Barkley, despite two interceptions in which one of them can be attributed to a communication lapse, still managed to throw two touchdowns while completing 65% of his passes.
And they spread the love around as well. Four different running backs carried the ball, and eight different receivers recorded at least one reception.
The team had long, methodical drives down the field for scores (see: an 11-play, 88 yard fourth quarter drive resulting in a David Ausberry touchdown), and big, game-breaking plays (see: a second quarter 53-yard touchdown reception by Ronald Johnson).
All in all, Saturday afternoon saw a more balanced offensive performance than last week's 17-point scoring output against Virginia.
Even the defense continued its upward trend, after all the snarky comments following the letdown during week one.
Was the touchdown surrendered in the final minutes aggravating? Certainly. But over the course of 60 minutes, there remains little doubt that as a unit, the defense looked better than it did two weeks ago at Hawaii. There were fewer missed tackles and miscues, and they forced more turnovers as well. They intercepted Adam Weber twice, which isn't always saying much, but nonetheless, creating turnovers was a staple of the dominant Pete Carroll teams of 2002-2008. When the turnover margin swings in ‘SC's favor, good things often ensue.
There remains doubt that that as Trojan fans, we will be relatively pleased with today's performance with an effective offense and a defensive that largely tackled well and prevented the big plays seen during week one against Hawaii.
Heck, Lane Kiffin even allowed the team to sing the fight song following a game for the first time all season. How can one not be totally enthused about ‘SC's 32-21 win over Minnesota - on the road?
But even still, let's not go crazy. Am I still echoing "Conquest?" Obviously. But I'll try to take a deep breath and be a little more objective because there are some things that still need to be corrected.
Yes, the bad news is that this team is still committing far too many penalties: 7-for-72 yards. It's still better than the 12-for-125 yards they averaged in weeks one and two, but regardless, the number is too high if this bunch has a serious shot at upending teams like Stanford and Oregon. With a lack of depth and a largely inexperienced roster, USC doesn't have the option of giving up free yardage to the opposition.
That'll need to change, as will various other things. Nickell Robey still looks lost at times, and the offensive line is not always consistent in opening up holes, just ask Marc Tyler.
But there's talent, a good coaching staff and time (two weeks before an October 2nd date with a Washington team that might not even be all it's cracked up to be). Even with multiple issues that need to be fixed, there now seems to be at least some reasons to believe that the improvement can continue.
At the very least, it's what I am banking on.