The Trojans ran into the half-time locker room with a 13-point lead yet felt like they were lacking a key element for success. It turns out all they needed was to step up and play through the pain, especially when their number was called.
"Him coming up to play shows that these guys believe in each other and are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. One team, one heartbeat. I think that was a great example of a family bonding together," Coach Orgeron said following his teams 19-3 victory over Utah on Saturday.
Safety Dion Bailey took that message directly to heart in the second half by playing through massive pain for the sake of his brothers, emphasizing the claim that "one team, one heartbeat" means something for this team.
"I definitely didn't wanna let them down," said Bailey, who played safety for the entire second half on defense with his team in a bind.
This became rather evident because freshman Su'a Cravens, who ended the game with this third INT of the year, left the field on the cart near the end of the first half. Cravens injured his groin making a secondary cut on his big interception, something that had been nagging all week in practice and made it impossible for him to return after sustaining the injury.
Since this team is rather thin at the free safety position, moving Josh Shaw down to cornerback and playing freshman Leon McQuay in more of a nickel role, the Trojans hands were forced.
After a long talk with his teammates and some time for self reflection, Bailey recognized that he needed to come out for his brothers and fill an empty void in the defense as the third safety in coverage.
"He's one of the captains. It shows great character to come back and make great plays in the second half," captain Hayes Pullard says.
Maybe it was divine intervention, maybe it was a stroke of luck or maybe it was just a shift in mentality, but the defense came out to play with Bailey back in coverage. The Utes could only muster 201 yards of total offense in the entire game, including a monumental third quarter where Utah only gained 28 yards in three drives.
While Bailey may have one recorded one assist on a tackle in the half, his herculean effort inspired the play of his entire team. For a club desperate to regain physicality on the defensive side of the ball to establish their once dominant efforts in the first three games of the season, players rose to the occasion in this must-win affair at the Coliseum.
When the clock finally stuck zero at the Coliseum, the Trojans amassed six sacks, nine tackles for loss, three interceptions and two red zone stands resulting in field goal attempts. "I feel like we didn't get after the quarterback as much as we could against Notre Dame, so we wanted to come out and put pressure on him," said Leonard Williams.
The numbers may have been massively aided against the injured Travis Wilson and second-string QB Adam Schulz (7-17 passing for 79 yards) playing far below what we expected, yet the fact remains that USC's defense came out with an intensity that rivaled the early portions of this season where top-ten rankings followed nearly every statistic.
Given the fact that 52 scholarship players suited up this week against Utah, one would expect more team-oriented performances to come as the Oregon State Beavers and their high-flying offense led by Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks, stand looming in the distance as a difficult task in its own right next week in Corvallis.