After a search that took No. 18 USC halfway across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and halfway across the country to Minnesota, it finally found its identity among the wheat fields of the Washington-Idaho border.
Playing a Washington State team (1-3, 0-1) that has ranked at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 in recent years, the Trojans (4-0, 1-0) ran the ball for 285 yards and held the Cougars to just 16 points to come away with the lopsided 50-16 victory.
“I thought that was the closest we’ve played to a complete game, which has been our focus for two weeks in a row now — to try and put things together,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “We want to be tough and we want to be disciplined, so I think we were that way. Lopsided rushing yards is [the stat you] look at and know you’re playing well.”
With the talk all week revolving around which running back would start, out of senior Allen Bradford, redshirt junior Marc Tyler and freshman Dillon Baxter, senior fullback Stanley Havili got the nod and put together a day Godzilla would dream of.
The senior had nine touches for 192 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yard tackle-breaking run on the first play from scrimmage for USC after Washington State scored on the opening drive.
“You know what, the hole was huge. I cut back, Rojo made a huge block — I remember seeing him block 44, which was great — and it helped me bounce outside,” Havili said. “It feels really good to touch the ball.”
Kiffin used Havili almost exclusively in the first quarter because USC came out in the no-huddle offense. Kiffin said Havili knows the protection schemes the best, so he uses him as the single-back when USC uses that style of offense.
Havili validated his coach’s confidence, gaining yards through the running and passing games. The fullback was the Trojans’ leading receiver, tying a team-high five catches and recording a team-high 107 receiving yards to go along with his 80 rushing yards.
“Stanley is so versatile, he’s a fullback, slash running back, slash receiver,” Bradford said. “I mean what can’t Stanley do?”
Havili stepped up for the offense in the first half when sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley was struggling. Barkley threw two first-half interceptions — one coming on the goal line when a safety dropped back into coverage that Barkley failed to see — but picked up his game in the third quarter to finish with 290 passing yards and three touchdowns before being pulled just before the end of the third quarter. It was the start of the game, however, when Barkley threw two interceptions in his first five passes, that concerned him.
“I’m happy with how we did as an offense, but those picks definitely tarnish what happened throughout the game,” Barkley said. “That first quarter, those turnovers, even [Bradford’s] fumble — it doesn’t feel right and makes this win not feel so good. We obviously need to do something to correct those.”
On defense, freshman cornerback Nickell Robey had two incerceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown to put USC up 14-7 early in the first quarter. Sophomore safety T.J. McDonald added another as the Trojans were able to stop Washington State’s offense, especially inside the red zone.
“We didn’t change anything [after Washington State’s first touchdown],” senior cornerback Shareece Wright said. “We just made plays and did what we got to do.”
With the win, Kiffin became the first USC football coach since Jess Hill in 1951 to start his USC coaching career 4-0, but Kiffin said earlier in the week that nobody probably played a schedule as easy as this team has. Kiffin dubbed these first four games USC’s “preseason,” and now the Trojans come home as they begin to face the toughest part of their schedule.
“I really looked at it where we would normally have four preseason scrimmages, where we could tackle and have 100 plays and really get to know our team. We didn’t have that,” Kiffin said. “Our goal was to get through these four games, not worry what the score was, come away 4-0 and healthy by playing a bunch of players, and getting an idea of our roster — I think we have that.”