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."
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."