Well, glad that’s over.
After pulling out a grinding 14-9 win Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium against Arizona State, the Trojans couldn’t hide their excitement.
USC finally gets to go home for good.
Arizona State was the sixth and final stop on USC’s road schedule, and it’s no secret the team was glad to see it finally come to an end. The Trojans played six of its first nine games away from the Coliseum and paid the price for it with two losses.
“It was a hard part of the schedule, maybe as tough as we’ve ever had,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “And it just seemed like forever that we were on the road.”
Though Carroll and company may not have gone out with the bang they expected against the Sun Devils, after last week’s debacle against Oregon, they won’t complain. The Trojans were as bad as they’ve been this season on offense and were saved by two big plays and solid defense.
Senior safety Will Harris returned a second quarter interception 55 yards for a touchdown, and junior receiver Damian Williams turned a short catch into a 75-yard score in the third quarter. The defense got back to causing turnovers again and just held on for dear life.
No more traveling. No more hostile crowds. From this point on until bowl season, USC will be happily confined to Southern California.
“I’m really happy to get back home and to get into our same old home routine,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris Galippo said.
That routine has been much kinder to the Trojans. USC very easily could have gone 1-5 on the road this season, with Cal being the only win they secured from the start to finish of the game.
Road trips for the Trojans have been a rollercoaster of highs and lows. They needed a miracle last-minute drive to get past Ohio State before suffering a letdown the next week at Washington.
They put together their best all-around performance of the year against Cal, then nearly blew a big fourth-quarter lead at Notre Dame.
They were run out of town in Eugene, Ore., then rebounded with this narrow win in the Arizona desert.
“We paid the price for that along the way here, but now we have to make the most of it and cash in and finish this thing off like we know how,” Carroll said.
It hasn’t been fun. It hasn’t been easy. But the Trojans are relieved it’s at the very least over, and they return to the Coliseum a much more experienced football team.
“We’ve been in these situations too many times,” Harris said. “We don’t get nervous anymore.”
USC’s defense carried the day against the Sun Devils by getting back to its roots. After admitting he took his defensive scheme one step too far last week, Carroll simplified his calls this week and counted on his defense to just make plays.
“Coach went back to the basic calls,” Harris said.
Back to the basics for the Trojans meant more man-to-man coverage and less thinking.
The Trojans also benefited from a few breaks, which have been a rarity on this extended road trip. A Barkley pass was intercepted on USC’s first drive, but the play was nullified thanks to a Sun Devil defensive holding call.
Then, after getting hit, another Barkley pass fluttered into the air and dropped right into the hands of Sun Devil freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but somehow Burfict took his eye off the ball and let it hit the ground.
In the fourth quarter, Barkley was sacked and fumbled the ball, but it was ruled that USC had called a timeout before the play had started.
“That was my all-time favorite timeout call, just before we lost the football,” Carroll said.
On a third down and long on the same drive, Barkley handed the ball to McKnight on a draw play, not even making a serious attempt to get the first down.
McKnight was stopped well short, but Arizona State’s sophomore defensive lineman Lawrence Guy was flagged for a questionable late hit penalty, keeping USC’s drive alive.
So no, USC’s final road contest wasn’t pretty. It was an uneventful, defense-dominated game punctuated by two thrilling big plays. And the Trojans definitely caught some breaks along way.
But after all they’ve been through on the road this season, the Trojans are simply happy they ended it with a victory and keep thankful they won’t have to worry about any travel plans until late December.
“Middle Ground” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Josh