USC Football: Can Troy Conquer All By Winning Ugly?

USA TODAY Sports

The light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to emerge for the 3-1 USC Trojans, who will need to correct some minor flaws heading into Tempe next weekend for a crucial Pac-12 South showdown.

The formula was short and sweet on Saturday afternoon.

"I feel like we play efficient to where we don't turn the football over," said head coach Lane Kiffin following a 17-14 nail-biting victory. "If you want to win you have to play good field position and not turn the football over."

The Trojans did not blow open the flood gates against Utah State instead resting on their laurels of pounding the football and playing outstanding defense and special teams to preserve the third win. While only out-gaining the Aggies by three yards in the game, USC's defense sparked the fire in the rather cautious and skeptical Coliseum environment.

"We just all feel that we are the best on the field, we work harder than every other group," George Uko said about his defensive line, which accounted four sacks and an incredible eight tackles for loss. "Its about the players taking on the scheme and being accountable to themselves."

USC finished the game much to Kiffin's plan, only committing one turnover on a strip-sack near the end of the second quarter, while limiting Utah State to nearly 200 yards under their season average.

In the process, the Trojans also mastered the battle for field position. Yet members of the offense recognized the necesity towards putting more points on the board, especially when you are gifted a tremendous average starting field position.

"Nobody remembers that," Kiffin said on the game's low scoring nature. "That's the topic for the next 48 hours and that's fine. Every team has games like that early on. You got to win those games, and we did that today."

While the Aggies certainly deserve some credit for drawing up numerous blitz screens and loading the box rather effectively, limiting Tre Madden under 100 yards for the first time all season, the fact remains that USC's offense struggled to find any sense of rhythm for most of the contest.

Whether its Marqise Lee publicly voicing the need to work more reps with Kessler in practice or passes being thrown by receivers on about four or five occasions Saturday, improvement from a 13-27 passing clip is visibility necessary.

"I think this is the best defense we have played so far," Kessler said post game, adding "We are just a few plays away from having three or four more touchdowns, but at the end of the day we are 3-1, we got the win and that's all that matters heading into Arizona State."

But is that actually the case for the USC offense, which followed up a near-perfect performance against Boston College with a rather mystifying display against a vicious Utah State pass rush.

The Trojans failed to move the football with any real conviction in the second half, only scoring three points on a short six-play 25-yard drive capped by an Andre Heidari field goal which made the difference between winning and losing.

Taking the lead early and resting on their laurels of ground-n-pound football sounds fine and dandy but not when you are forced to punt seven times in the second half, leaving the other facets of your unit basically out to dry. "Every week is not going to go as planned, it's not going to go perfect every week," Kessler said after comparing his outings as the full-time starting quarterback. "A lot of people don't realize that.

Those three or four plays the players have mentioned could ultimately come back to bite them later down the road. A Marqise Lee dropped pass, and some miscommunication in timing with Nelson Agholor, and defensive PI's flying all over the field has left the offense without the big-play threat on the outside for most of the year.

"Its a bit frustrating, obviously its not good enough to just win," Kessler said about his entire teams play."You have to get better and you have to watch film and improve, but I think we played a lot better."

Next up steps the hungry Arizona State Sun Devils, who will be playing with plenty of internal motivation from last year's embarrassing loss (USC's defense dominated only allowing 250 yards of total offense) combined with an encouraging second-half performance -but nevertheless crushing defeat- at the hands of Stanford on Saturday.


The mantra for the upcoming slate of games in the Pac-12 will provide a whole different set of challenges for the Trojans. Certainly much more formidable than the likes of WSU/USU, yet the game plan remains ever short and to the point.

"Obviously we want to score every time we have the ball," among Kiffin's major benchmarks, "unfortunately we were not able to score for some particular reason. At the end of the day we did what we were supposed to do, we are 3-1."

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