The story: Someone lit a fuse attached to Robert Woods.
Minnesota had just taken the lead midway through the third quarter and was hoping to stop a USC offense that had been sputtering along. It never got that chance.
Freshman wide receiver Woods caught the kickoff on the Trojans three-yard line, eluded the first wave of the Golden Gophers’ kickoff unit and 97 yards later put the Trojans back up for good. Woods, who has only played three games in his collegiate career, grew up on that play.
“If you don’t return a kick, then you’re a firecracker. That’s what coach Baxter says,” senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson said. “When you do return a kick, you become a bomb, and today he became a bomb.”
Woods’ touchdown swung the momentum back into USC’s favor and lifted the whole team.
“I was on the side where Woody caught the ball so I was running down the whole sideline and looking at our team. Everyone was going crazy,” sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said. “Scores like that and big plays like that on special teams are huge for a team.”
USC controlled the tempo after halftime as the running game got going. With Barkley having a so-so passing day, senior tailback Allen Bradford became USC’s work horse.
Bradford, who has seen minimal playing time this year behind redshirt junior tailback Marc Tyler, led the team with 12 carries for 131 yards and made a strong case to be the starter next week.
“He had a good week at practice which speaks a lot for him,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It’s a great lesson for our team. He could’ve went in the tank very easily, could’ve said things in the media. He practiced really hard and it paid off for him, which is a good story for all our players to see.”
Defensive line: Aside from Woods’ kickoff return, the story of the game was USC’s defensive line play. The unit held Minnesota running back Duane Bennett — who came into this game as the sixth-leading rusher in the country averaging 145.5 yards per game — to just eight yards on seven carries.
The line established itself early, clogging the holes and recording tackles in the backfield. Despite the lack of success running the ball early on, Minnesota kept pounding away and USC came up with the stops. Overall, the Golden Gophers rushed 37 times for just 83 yards.
“It was real surprising they went for the run even though they kept getting stuffed,” junior defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “I thought they’d go to the air, but, hey, let them keep running and we’ll keep stopping them.”
Going for two: Kiffin’s love affair with the two-point conversion attempt remained on display this weekend. The Trojans went for two points on three of five touchdowns they scored and didn’t convert a single one. Though it didn’t cost them the game, it did cost them the lead at one point. The failed two-point conversion after the second touchdown left USC up 13-7, thus trailing when the Golden Gophers scored their next touchdown and converted the extra point.
“It kills some momentum,” Kiffin said. “But there are certain looks on our two-point conversions where we’re going to go for it. They’re not all going to work, but we’d like to think that when we make those decisions the percentages are in our favor. I think positive. If you make it, then you’re in a two-score game.”
Big plays: Three of the five USC touchdowns came on plays of more than 50 yards, including Barkley’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Johnson in the second quarter to put USC up 13-7. That was a big play for Johnson, who was battling the flu and had to leave the field multiple times to go to the locker room. As a result, Johnson didn’t play as much — registering just three catches for 63 yards — but still managed to connect with Barkley on one of his only sprints down the field.
Johnson said he was extremely satisfied when he ran into the endzone and saw no penalty flags, something that has been rare this year. Matt Barkley’s 47-yard touchdown pass to Johnson on a similar play last week was nullified because of a holding penalty.
“I looked back and saw no flags, which was great. I was thinking ‘I hope nobody held,’” Johnson said.