And clearly, USC played like it in the second half.
Wrapping up a stretch of four of their first six games on the road to start the season, USC head coach Lane Kiffin said he wanted to “make it through this thing” and come home with a win.
But the No. 11 USC team that took a 24-7 lead into the locker room at halftime looked nothing like their second half counterpart in the 24-14 win at Washington (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12 North) on Saturday night.
Play calling, as has grown to become customary from the Trojans (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12 South) with second half leads this season on the road, was conservative. Penalties reared their ugly head. After four penalties for 35 yards in the first half, the Trojans had five in the third quarter alone.
The charge, as expected, was going to come from Washington in the second half playing in front of a packed crowd at CenturyLink Field.
The Trojans bent.
Andre Heidari’s 41-yard field goal attempt was blocked, setting up a Keith Price 29-yard touchdown pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the ensuing possession in the third quarter. At one point, Price had completed 16 straight passes. He finished 20-of-28 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
They bent some more.
A drive that started in the third quarter carried over to the fourth quarter with the Huskies driving all the way down to the USC four-yard line. Price, trying to run, had the ball poked away by safety Jawanza Starling and was hit almost simultaneously by freshman defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Starling recovered the fumble as well.
USC forced four Washington turnovers on the night to continue their streak of multiple takeaways in every game this season.
The defensive line was stout, coming up with five sacks, led by Morgan Breslin’s two. The Trojans defense held the Huskies to 298 yards of total offense, including 101 yards on the ground.
The Husky defense, however, shutout out USC in the second half. USC was held to just 138 yards in the second half after putting up 233 in the first half.
Matt Barkley completed just 3-of-10 passes in the second half for 66 yards. He finished 10-of-20 for 167 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It was a ball control second half. On third and long situations, the Trojans often put the ball in the belly of Silas Redd or Curtis McNeal, content to punt the ball away if need be, and seemingly reluctant to let it fly. The Trojans running back tandem combined for 213 yards on the ground – 73 came in a second half in which the Trojans held onto the ball for 18 minutes.
Redd finished the game with 26 carries for 155 yards and an 11-yard touchdown. He now has six rushing touchdowns on the season and remains the only USC player to score on the ground.
USC cornerback Anthony Brown blocked a punt that he scooped and scored to give USC a 24-7 lead in the second quarter.
The second half was safe. It was conservative. Style points, it lacked. However, the defense stood tall to preserve the win when it counted. Just like he said, Kiffin and USC were able to “make it through this thing.”
They coasted in the first half. In the second half? They made it through.