Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
For the second straight week, USC's defense was faced with the late-game task of preserving a narrow victory, and once again they rose to the occasion in the Trojans' thrilling 23-14 win over Utah.
Over the final seven minutes on Saturday, the Trojans needed four defensive stands to claim victory, highlighted by a key third down sack from redshirt freshman linebacker Hayes Pullard and a game-clinching blocked field goal by senior left tackle Matt Kalil that led to Torin Harris' 68-yard return for a touchdown as time expired.
"We just fed off the defensive line tonight and the energy they provided," Pullard said. "Before my sack, they were boasting about making all of the key plays. So I fed off that and made a play. This is a big win, but it's only one win. We can still get better in these situations."
While the Utes had several chances to tie the ballgame in the waning moments of the Pac-12's opener, Pullard believes USC's preparation in practice had a lot to do with its collective performance on the field when it mattered most.
"We practice really hard during the week and through that we have come together as a unit," said Pullard. "I think the big plays we have made this season during key moments comes from that commitment we have made to one another during the week."
"I was confident that our defense would be better than what we showed last year," said McDonald, who is one USC's defensive captain. "It can't just be words though, we had to go out there and prove it. I think after a night like this, people can now see that we are more than capable of executing when it counts."
In 2010, the Trojans' two-minute defense shriveled under similar circumstances, blowing 4th quarter leads against Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington. This season, however, maturity and experience have finally come to a head in the face of pressure-packed scenarios.
"[Our maturity level] is a lot higher obviously than it was last year because several of us have been here before," said senior linebacker Chris Galippo. "Even though we had to go on the field for what seemed like five or six times late in that game, not once did anyone feel like we were going to lose that game. I think that right there shows you the big difference from last season to this season."
The Trojans' next opponent, Syracuse, has also been stellar late in games this year. Through two games, the Orange have allowed just three points in the fourth quarter or overtime en route to a matching 2-0 record.
(Photo by Jon SooHoo)
(Photo by Jon SooHoo)