October 26, 2008

Defense shines in the desert

TUCSON, Ariz. - Penalties and turnovers have been an albatross for the Trojan football team in victory and defeat for much of the season.

Saturday at Arizona Stadium, USC turned the ball over and committed too many silly, costly penalties.

Still, with the 11 players lining up in defense of the USC end zone, none of those things ultimately factored in the end.

Even though USC had it's streak of 141-straight points snapped, the Trojan defense turned in another frighteningly dominant performance, dropping Arizona 17-10 in front of the Wildcats' home crowd.

In a game without a ton of defining moments, USC looked its best when it needed to most.

With the game midway through the fourth quarter and the Trojans up a touchdown, Arizona head coach Mike Stoops sent his offense on the field for fourth down.

All they needed was a few inches.

"I knew we were going to stop them," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "I just knew we would.

"I just had that feeling. We're a big team, and that's what big teams do - make big plays."

The fourth-and-inches stop was merely one moment in a game the Trojans' dominated defensively.

"Everyone had to hit that right to stop them for no yards - no inches even," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "It was a great opportunity for the guys to rise up."

Defensive tackle Fili Moala said he knew that Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama would be taking the snap and pushing forward.

"It was like less than half-an-inch. Why run any other play?" Moala said. "We knew what the deal was. We were ready and prepared. We just got off on the ball and shot our gaps and got back there.

"It was basically their will against ours. They know what they were doing; we knew what they were doing. It was who was going to let up."

Heading into the game, Arizona (5-3, 3-2 Pac-10) had put up some prolific offensive numbers, averaging 40.4 points and 411.9 yards of total offense.

"I loved the way our guys played on defense tonight," Carroll said. "I thought this was a really, really good night against a big-time offense."

The Trojans (6-1, 4-1) limited Tuitama and the Wildcat offense to just 88 yards passing.

"It happened because the rush. It happened because of the coverage. It happened because our guys would not let up," Carroll said. "That was a really impressive night on defense because these guys were so good on offense."

The USC offense needed the help Saturday.

The Trojans struggled to find an offensive rhythm, but USC did enough the get the win.

Stafon Johnson led USC with 83 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, and Mark Sanchez completed 21-of-36 attempts for 216 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception.

"I felt really good," Johnson said. "It was left up to us to just try and make plays. They were a really hard, physical defense. We just had to play ball."

And the Trojans didn't stop until the final whistle, which as it turns out, was what it was going to take to leave with a win.

With less than 10 seconds left on the clock, punter Greg Woidneck kicked to Mike Thomas. Thomas fielded the ball on the 13, took it 11 yards and fumbled.

Arizona's Derick Barkum picked up the loose ball and took off down the far sideline before Clay Matthews tracked him down at the Trojan 34-yard line to end the game.

"Of course you hold your breath," Carroll said. "That's the most difficult situation for a team other than to be backed up on the last play of the game. Unfortunately, it was a little more drama than we needed."

Still, on Saturday night, it probably wasn't going to matter.

"They were just too good defensively, and that was really the story tonight," Stoops said. "…Anytime you play USC and start to close on them, they do a good job protecting their turf."


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