10 observations from round three and an interview with our player of the game...
- The Trojans did not play the complete game that Lane Kiffin desired, but they played a complete half. The second half was the best all-around performance of the season ignited by Robert Woods 97-yard kick return for a never-look-back touchdown. Overall, USC played well enough to earn the right to sing the fight song (twice actually) in the locker room after the game for the first time in the Kiffin era.
- Down 14-13 with just over five minutes to play in the 3rd quarter, the Trojans felt the first real game pressure of the season. Electrifying freshman Robert Woods alleviated the sideline anxiety by riding the "Convoy" across the TCF Bank Stadium field turf. "Excitement," Woods described the feeling. "Just don't get caught and then I get to celebrate with my team." While Woods gets the highlight, he gives all the credit to the call made by special teams coach John Baxter. "After I scored, I ran over and gave him a hug cause that was all him right there."
- Allen Bradford was my player of the game (interview below). His USC career is patience and perseverance personified. While Marc Tyler was the starter today, Bradford seized his opportunity to pound the rock and enforce his physicality on the contest. "We'd like that to be our personality," head coach Lane Kiffin said of the power running style employed by Bradford en route to a 133-yard afternoon.
- Defensively, USC's run defense was "the story of the game," according to Kiffin. The Gophers ran for just 83 yards despite 37 attempts. They challenged the Trojans front four, which responded, led by Jurrell Casey's team-leading nine tackles. "Every time they came directly at me," Casey said of Minnesota's gameplan. "I just made sure to split the double team and make the play." While the defensive line did not have a sack, they stuffed the run and consistently pressured the quarterback for the first time this season.
- Forced turnovers was my story of the week and the defense responded by tripling their season's output. On the first interception, Jawanza Starling added a degree of difficulty to the easiest pick he'll ever get. The ball was floated to him thanks to a Wes Horton pressure, but he felt like it took forever to get there and then bobbled the catch only to make an athletic recovery. "I got the first one out of the way," Starling said. The entire defense believes that turnovers are contagious, which proved true as a lucky foot clip and a late deflection led to two more before the 60 minutes were up.
- Unfortunately, the Trojans are still -1 in turnover margin for the season as Matt Barkley tossed his first two interceptions. On the first one, Rhett Ellison never turned around on the route, so either the timing or communication was off. The second pick falls squarely on the QB, who forced a ball in a 2nd and 22 situation, which leads us to the dreaded...
- ...P-word. Penalties. After a six penalty first half with another undisciplined personal foul, the Trojans got out of their own way in the second stanza. Successful offensive play-calling is so dependent on manageable down and distances, so chop-blocks and holding flags are the quickest ways to kill a drive or lead to forced passes. USC committed just one penalty in the second half.
- Lost in the shuffle of knockout #3, redshirt freshman DE James Boyd took the field for the first time in his USC career. He was ecstatic bouncing around the sideline in anticipation. "I'm so happy for you man," DT Hebron Fangupo said to Boyd on the sideline. Boyd has moved from the service team to contesting for playing time.
- The second corner spot was a clear weakness for USC today. Nickell Robey struggled on the Gophers first TD drive when he lost his man going across the middle and then was flagged for holding in the end zone. Later, he was beaten on a sideline route for six. T.J. Bryant has moved up in the mix, while Torin Harris still gets consistent playing time. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks rarely attack Shareece Wright, so the second and third corners will be under fire all year.
- Matt Barkley was "out of it" for a little while after the facemask penalty, which gave the Trojans a first down. As a result, Kiffin sort of stumbled into the power rushing sequence, which culminated in Bradford's 56-yard TD burst. Here is Bradford recounting the night and the love he got from his teammates and coaches after the run...