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.
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.
USC’s offense just keeps returning gifts.
Given great field position – again – the Trojans couldn’t convert.
Aided by a penalty for interfering on the reception of a punt, the Trojans started the drive at the Utah State 30 – the fifth time in the game they’ve taken over on the Aggies’ side of the field.
The next three plays:
A two-yard run by Tre Madden, a holding penalty for a loss of 10 yards, and an incomplete pass that could have been a turnover. On the pass, Cody Kessler tried to loft the ball to Marqise Lee, who was blanketed by cornerback Nevin Lawson.
Lawson was in perfect position and got his hands on the ball, but dropped it.
After another incomplete pass, USC was forced to punt.
The last six times Kessler has tried to pass, five throws fell incomplete and the other time he was sacked.
Utah State has the ball at its own 15 with 6 minutes 40 seconds left in regulation.
USC’s highly rated defense continues to cause misery for Utah State and quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
So the Aggies took a big chance, and it backfired.
Utah State faked a punt, snapping the ball to up-back D.J. Tialavea, whose hurried pass fell incomplete, giving USC the ball at the Utah State 34.
Tialavea is a tight end.
USC’s offense – which has spent more than half the game on Utah State’s side of the field – sputtered again.
Three Cody Kessler passes fell incomplete and the Trojans had to punt.
At least that worked out well for USC, though. The ball was downed at the one with 10 minutes 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
Utah State entered the game averaging 49.3 points and 550 yards in offense per game. The Aggies have 248 yards so far today.
USC 17, Utah State 14 (13:35 left in fourth quarter)
Andre Heidari kicked a 25-yard field goal to give the Trojans a slim lead.
The field goal capped a six-play drive that was set up when Utah State shanked a punt deep in its own territory.
USC tailback Tre Madden has rushed for 79 yards in 19 carries.
Quarterback Cody Kessler has completed 13 of 22 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown.
USC 14, Utah State 14 (end of third quarter)
The Trojans once again displayed a propensity for unproductive third quarters.
USC had three possessions and could not score.
Andre Heidari missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt and the Trojans turned the ball over on downs twice.
USC appears poised to possibly score early in the fourth quarter after Utah State shanked a punt that traveled only 12 yards.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler has completed 13 of 21 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown.
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton has completed 16 of 31 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, but he has been under pressure throughout the game.
USC 14, Utah State 14 (6:51 left in the third quarter)
Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies' running game is starting to heat up.
Keeton led a nine-play, 72-yard drive and capped it with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Nick Reynolds.
Running back Joe Hill keyed the drive with 24- and nine-yard runs.
Keeton has completed 14 of 25 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
The Aggies are outgaining the Trojans, 226 yards to 206.
USC 14, Utah 7 (halftime)
Not a lot of excitement, but USC goes into the locker room with the lead.
Utah State came into the game averaging 49.3 points and 550.3 yards. USC has outgained the Aggies, 187-154.
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler has completed eight of 13 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. Kessler lost a fumble when he was sacked late in the second quarter, but Utah State was unable to capitalize.
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton has completed 12 of 21 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
USC tailback Tre Madden has rushed for 66 yards in 15 carries, while Trojans receiver Marqise Lee has four catches for 45 yards.
USC 14, Utah State 7 ((5:13 left in the second quarter)
Cody Kessler connected with tight end Xavier Grimble for a 30-yard touchdown pass to give the Trojans the lead.
Kessler set up the touchdown with a nine-yard strike to receiver Marqise Lee for a first down.
Kessler has completed seven of 12 passes for 73 yards.
It was the first touchdown reception of the season for Grimble.
USC 7, Utah State 7 (10:20 left in the second quarter)
After committing 10 penalties for 100 yards last week, USC was thought to have a possible penalty problem.
But Utah State is victimizing itself with numerous infractions.
The Aggies have been flagged seven times for 44 yards.
On its last possession, a long pass from Chuckie Keeton to receiver Travis Reynolds was nullified because the Aggies were penalized for having an illegal receiver downfield.
USC has been penalized twice for a total of 15 yards.
USC 7, Utah State 7 (13:17 left in the second quarter)
Chuckie Keeton completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Swindall to tie the score.
Running back Joey DeMartino set up the touchdown with a 55-yard run.
Keeton has completed eight of 13 passes for 97 yards.
USC 7, Utah State 0 (end of first quarter)
USC ended the quarter with a seven-point lead after Nick Diaz's 37-yard field-goal attempt for Utah State hit the right upright with 1:39 left.
Utah State was in position to score after quarterback Chuckie Keeton completed a 42-yard pass to receiver Travis Reynolds.
USC tailback Tre Madden has rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown in eight carries.
Cody Kessler has completed five of eight passes for 34 yards for the Trojans.
Keeton is six of eight for 76 yards.
USC 7, Utah State 0 (5:41 left in the first quarter)
USC tailback Tre Madden is off to another good start in pursuit of his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing effort.
Madden has carried seven times for 31 yards and just put USC ahead, 7-0, with a two-yard touchdown run.
USC's first touchdown came courtesy of punter Chris Albarado, who pinned Utah State at the three-yard line.
USC's defense stopped the Aggies and forced them to punt, giving USC great field position to set up the touchdown drive.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler has completed three of six passes for 26 yards.
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is two for two for nine yards
It's only minutes away from kickoff at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where USC will try to hold off a Utah State team looking to make a national statement.
Utah State has not played in game televised nationally by ABC since 1978.
In the last four years, the Aggies came close to upsetting Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Auburn and Wisconsin, but could not finish strong enough to pull off the upset.
After watching USC lose to Washington State at the Coliseum two weeks ago, the Aggies and quarterback Chuckie Keeton will not be intimidated by the Trojans or the atmosphere.
Last week against Boston College, USC announced a crowd of 62,006 but it was far smaller.
So it will be interesting to see how many fans return in the aftermath of last week's 35-7 victory.