Nevin Lawson, Nelson Agholor

USC receiver Nelson Agholor makes a catch against Utah State cornerback Nevin Lawson in the first half Saturday at the Coliseum. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / September 21, 2013)

USC got it half right.

Matched against a Utah State offense that had been among the most productive in the nation, the Trojans’ defense rose to the occasion Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.

The offense?

Not so much.

USC defeated Utah State, 17-14, despite managing just a field goal in the second half.

Make that just a field goal despite constantly getting great field position. USC started six drives on Utah State’s side of the field.

“The defense played great again, against a great quarterback and a really good team,” USC Coach Lane Kiffin said in a television interview after the game.

The offense, Kiffin said, stating the obvious, never found a rhythm.

“We won the game,” Kiffin said. “That’s what matters."

USC improved to 3-1. Utah State fell to 2-2.

It was appropriate that a key play in allowing USC to hold on was that the Trojans gained a yard on a quarterback sneak by Cody Kessler when they needed about half that on a fourth-down play with two minutes left in regulation.

Kessler completed 13 of 26 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also had a couple of passes dropped that would have gone for substantial gains. However, the last six times he dropped back to pass, five of his throws fell incomplete. He was sacked on the other attempt.

Tailback Tre Madden couldn’t carry the Trojans’ sputtering offense, being held to less than 100 yards rushing for the first time in four games. He finished with 93 yards and a touchdown in 24 carries.

Utah State’s offense never got going, either.

Entering the game with averages of 49.3 points and 550 yards a game, the Aggies were held to 285 yards by the Trojans, who harassed and frustrated Chuckie Keeton, Utah State’s star quarterback.

Keeton completed 21 of 39 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He was also sacked four times, as USC’s front of ends Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin and tackles George Uko and Leonard Williams dominated one college’s football’s most experienced offensive lines.

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USC’s offense just keeps returning gifts.

Given great field position – again – the Trojans couldn’t convert.

Again.