It was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule.
It didn't play out that way. Not for the Trojans or the diminishing number of fans who showed up and watched it unfold.
USC's 17-14 victory over Utah State on Saturday was another struggle for a team that is leaning heavily on its outstanding defense while waiting on consistency from the offense.
The Trojans shut down high-powered Utah State and handled quarterback Chuckie Keeton but needed a fourth-quarter field goal from Andre Heidari to improve to 3-1 going into next week's game at Arizona State.
Coach Lane Kiffin has said that at the end of a season, few remember the scores of games, only whether they were won or lost.
He echoed that after the Trojans hung on for a victory over a stubborn opponent from the Mountain West Conference.
"Nobody remembers that," Kiffin said of the score. "It's the topic right now for the next 48 hours, and that's fine.
"As you look at teams over the years, everybody has games like that early on for the most part. So you've got to win those games and then everybody just says, 'Oh well, they found a way to win the game.' So, we did that today."
USC cannot afford to make a habit of having games like Saturday's.
The schedule is about to get more difficult, starting next Saturday against Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium, where the Trojans lost two years ago. And they're already 0-1 in the Pac-12, thanks to their shocking 10-7 home loss to Washington State two weeks ago.
Utah State, which had been averaging 49 points and 550 yards a game, was held to 285 yards by a USC defense that had 10 tackles for losses and continues to thrive under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
But the Aggies (2-2) still outgained USC, which produced only 282 yards and converted only three of 14 third downs.
USC tailback Tre Madden's streak of 100-yard games ended with a 93-yard effort that included a short touchdown run in the first quarter.
Quarterback Cody Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards, including a touchdown pass to tight end Xavier Grimble late in the second quarter for a 14-7 halftime lead.
But the offense continually stalled, especially in the second half when it produced only 95 yards.
"We won," receiver Marqise Lee said. "That's all that matters."
The always upbeat Lee, who caught six passes for 72 yards, assessed the offense as "pretty solid" but added, "I know we've got things to work on. A lot of things actually."
Said receiver Nelson Agholor: "We know there are plays we can make and will make."