The USC Trojans kicked their way to a 34-33 victory over the Arizona State University Sun Devils.
It was a crazy game full of special team triumphs and bloopers, including T.J. McDonald's punt block and deflection; extra point block by Tyron Smith returned by Torin Harris for two points; long interception returns for touchdowns by both teams; USC two-point conversion that finally paid off; 100-yard kickoff return by ASU after being surrounded by USC "tacklers"; and USC kicker Joe Houston, who missed two short field goals, finally making the winning one while the ASU Lou Grouza Award winner Thomas Weber missed his game-winning attempt.
There was nothing predictable about this game. Both teams seemed to give away the game, and then take it back.
The only thing consistent about these two teams is their inconsistency, either very good or very bad. This was previously discussed in the article, “USC Football: Will the Favored Trojans Beat the Arizona State Sun Devils?”
I was fortunate to get invited by USCTrojans.com to represent Bleacher Report at the USC-ASU game. Not many fans get invited to sit in the press box and get issued press credentials for a USC Trojans football game, so another article will share what it is like to be in the press box as a fan.
Here are some postgame video interviews with head coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley, placekicker Joe Houston, safety T.J. McDonald and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Chris Galippo.
Hope you enjoy them.
Lane Kiffin was pleased with the special teams and defense. About special teams he said they believe in what they’re doing and the time they’ve spend doing it is "really paying off," and "with the hit we’ve taken on scholarship players you really have to play good on special teams to win. To do what we’re doing in Year One is great."
Kiffin reported that Robert Woods spent Thursday night in the hospital with back issues and pain after throwing up. USC almost scored on its first offensive play, but Matt Barkley overthrew a wide open Woods because of too much adrenaline at the start of the game. Woods' injury prevented him from having a big role in the game, but he is so tough that he gave it his best.
Kiffin said, "All in all, after what we’ve gone through in the last four games prior to this—the two last-second losses and then the Oregon game—we’re just happy to get a win right now. I’m pleased for our players and their effort today.”
"One of those games that brings you closer as a team, and you finish out the year well," Kiffin noted. It reminded him of the first Pete Carroll USC team. The 2-5 Trojans "went down to Arizona and fought back to win and finished the season off strong."
USC plays the Arizona Wildcats next week.
Joe Houston, who missed his first two field goal attempts, made his 29-yard game winner with 3:06 left. His miss against Washington cost the Trojans that game, so he didn’t have to explain this one.
He is good friends with ASU kicker Thomas Weber, who previously won the Lou Groza Award. He sought out Weber after the game and told him, "Keep your head up. I know how you feel."
Houston noted how critical the special team points were in this game, both missed and realized ones. "I started off the game about as bad as you could ever dream," Houston said. "I was living a nightmare. Redemption is a sweet thing."
When asked if he was nervous before his last field goal, Houston said, “I’m human. I was anxious. But I believe in myself, and I believe in my teammates. My team put me in the position to execute my job…I just did my job. That kick was for my teammates."
Asked about the Thomas Weber field goal attempt, Matt Barkley said, "I was just praying he’d miss." But, Barkley said he was ready to go out and “execute a four-minute drill or a two-minute one, whichever it took.
When asked about being on the other side of a late field goal victory, Barkley said, “I believed in Joe. I believed in him this whole year. Even with the two misses early on, I just kept telling him and the rest of the guys, even I didn’t play well, that’s the past. Worry about where you are right now, the present. Just focus on the task at hand. I knew he was going to get it in. I just knew it.”
T.J. McDonald said that the special teams game plan put together by associate head coach John Baxter was aggressive. He said, “We accepted the challenge to be relentless to the ball. That’s how we talked about it.”
Asked about the performance of the defense, Malcolm Smith said, "I think we did a solid job. We had some troubling times earlier in the year. We were well-prepared this week. We felt we had a good idea of what they were going to do. The DBs did a great job of executing their plan. They had that gimmick play early in the game. But I felt we did a better job of coming out and trying to put the locks on them."
Former starting middle linebacker Chris Galippo started in place of strong side linebacker Michael Morgan. When asked about the win he said, "Huge. I mean this is the story of our season…us fighting hard, not giving up until the end." Galippo added, "It was big. For us to bounce back after a hard loss last week."