The setup: After a lopsided defeat at the hands of the No. 1 Oregon Ducks, the Trojans entered Saturday’s game against Arizona State wanting to redeem themselves and show that they still had something to play for.
The story: In a season where the Trojans just couldn’t catch a break, Saturday was the night that the ball finally bounced their way when senior kicker Joe Houston nailed a 29-yard field goal to lift the Trojans to a 34-33 victory.
“We never doubted him,” sophomore safety T.J. McDonald said. “He makes those kicks all the time in practice. He missed a couple and that’s a great job for him to respond. For the way he responded, we have the utmost respect for him.”
The first half lacked scoring, but there was plenty of other excitement that came from USC’s defense, which looked alive and kept the Sun Devils’ offense in check, recording four sacks in the first half.
The play of the defense and special teams kept the Trojans in the game until the offense finally got into a rhythm that would become evident in the second half.
Wild third quarter: Arizona State drove down the field effortlessly to begin the third quarter, but one bad throw by Sun Devils quarterback Steven Threet allowed senior linebacker Malcolm Smith to pick off his errant pass and return it 74 yards for a touchdown.
And just as it seemed the Trojans had momentum, the Sun Devils snatched it away, responding every time to silence the crowd and keep themselves in the game. Both teams traded scores until Sun Devils cornerback LeQuan Lewis took the kickoff 100 yards, cutting the Trojans lead to a single possession again, 29-21.
That concluded the third quarter, but the Sun Devils would carry the momentum into the final quarter. Another interception return for a touchdown — this time, it was by Sun Devils cornerback Omar Bolden — cut the Trojans’ deficit again to a single score and it wasn’t too long before they seized the lead at 29-33 midway through the fourth quarter on a Threet pass to wide receiver Jamal Miles.
Special teams: In the first half, McDonald had a hand in blocking one punt, and also deflected another. In the second half, the Trojans again gave their offense a chance to win when junior offensive tackle Tyron Smith blocked a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter that redshirt freshman cornerback Torin Harris returned for a two-point conversion. This ultimately set up the game-winning heroics for Houston.
“Special teams … a lot of people don’t really get it, but it determines a lot of the outcome,” redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo said.
Third time’s the charm: in an up-and-down game that saw the Trojans take a 15-point lead, give it up and then take it back, Houston redeemed himself with a game-winning 29-yard field goal. After missing two field goals earlier in the game, Houston managed to stay confident.
“My team put me in the position to execute my job,” Houston said. “That kick was for my teammates.”
After being on the wrong side of last-second kicks, the Trojans ended up being on the right side on Saturday.
“All in all, after what we’ve gone through in the last four games prior to this … we’re just happy to get a win right now,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin. “I’m so pleased for our players and their effort.”