The sound of the USC fight song echoing from the locker room for the first time this season might have been an especially welcome sound for Trojan fans within earshot — not simply because the Trojans came away from their Saturday matchup against Minnesota with a win, but because for the first time in 2010, the team felt it actually deserved to sing the post-game tune that has for so long represented victory.
After two shaky wins to start the season, the Trojans were able to get into the rhythm that so many expected to see from the season’s start, defeating the Gophers 32-21 on the road to improve to 3-0.
“It was good to get the win,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin. “This has been two long road trips that we’ve gone on out of the first three weeks … but I was pleased that we are 3-0 heading into conference play. 3-0, which is the goal, always — to win every game that they let us play. I’m pleased with that.”
The Trojans relied on their running game to set the tone, utilizing four different backs who racked up a total of 224 yards and two touchdowns. Most notable was senior tailback Allen Bradford, who ran 12 times for 131 yards on the day, including a 56-yard touchdown that put the Trojans up 32-14 and effectively sealed the win for USC.
“I was just out there running, just doing what I can do. I was just waiting for the opportunity to knock on my door,” Bradford said. “I knew when my number was called I was going to run hard and be physical.”
Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley helped to balance out the Trojan attack with two touchdowns and 192 yards on 17-26 passing, including a 53-yard strike to senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson. But throwing the ball wasn’t always effective for USC, as Barkley was intercepted twice — the first time he has been picked off all season — and Minnesota was able to convert one of the opportunities into seven points.
“[The interceptions mean] a lot to me,” Barkley said. “You can’t be doing that in a big game because it’s all about positioning and holding onto the ball. This game it didn’t catch up to us, but in the future you can’t be putting the ball up like that … Things can be fixed on my part to prevent that, so I’ll try to eliminate those next week.”
The Trojans actually trailed twice in the game, as the Gophers found their way onto the scoreboard first with a one-yard DeLeon Eskridge rushing touchdown in the first quarter, and then again on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Da’Jon McKnight in the third to take a 14-13 lead.
But each time, USC responded with scores of its own. The first came from a three-yard touchdown run by redshirt junior tailback Marc Tyler to tie the game after the extra point at 7-7, and the Trojans bounced back after Minnesota’s second score with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by freshman wide receiver Robert Woods to go ahead 19-14.
“It helped the team,” Woods said of his return. “It picked us up, and it helped the team get going … I knew I had it when I first hit the hole.”
Although penalties remained the taboo subject at practice last week, the Trojans were able to lessen the problem Saturday with a significant improvement in the area. USC still committed seven penalties for 71 yards, but the total fell well short of the 12 penalties and 120 yards averaged by the team coming into the game.
“We’re going the right direction, but [the penalties] are still there and they are critical ones. A 15-yard chop block and 15-yard cut block — that’s 30 yards,” Kiffin said. “So we’ve got a ways to go.”
Although problems for USC still exist, the team’s record remains perfect as it enters Pac-10 play next weekend. And just like the weeks prior, Kiffin expects there to be improvement yet again before the Trojans head to Pullman, Wash. to face Washington State.
“We’re excited to be 3-0, but obviously we have a long way to go and a lot of stuff to work on,” he said.