Tempe, Ariz.- In Chris Galippo's eyes, the USC offense had built up some credit with the Trojan defense. But after Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium, things are all square, as USC fought its way to a 14-9 victory over Arizona State.
"We just really stepped up and helped out the team," Galippo said. "The offense has kept us in it a couple of times - the Oregon State game and at Notre Dame. We owed them one."
Over the past three games, the Trojan defense has allowed opponents to score 27, 36 and 47 points, respectively. Last week against Oregon was the worst defensive game for USC under Pete Carroll, as the Trojans allowed 613 yards of total offense- the second most in school history.
But after his team held Arizona State to just 81 yards rushing and nine points Saturday, Carroll said he was happy with the way his defense responded.
"We're really proud of the way we played tonight. We played really hard, really tough and really determined to win the football game," Carroll said. "We wanted to do the stuff it took to win, and on this night, it took a great defensive effort.
"A couple of weeks ago, it took a huge effort from the offense to beat Oregon State, and the defense wasn't right. To get right, to get back on track defensively, is obviously really important to us."
After USC's 47-20 loss to Oregon, Carroll said the coaching staff over-schemed for the game, but over the course of this past week, the Trojans went in a different direction.
"It was elementary school," linebacker Shane Horton said.
USC took a back-to-basics approach, playing more man-to-man defense and attacking Arizona State's running game.
"We did simplify some this week to make sure, and we hoped by doing that our guys would be able to get out of this funk we've been in for a couple of weeks," Carroll said. "We forced them to have to execute base defenses... That was the turn we made. That was the adjustment."
That adjustment, designed to help the Trojans defense stop the run, came up huge, ironically, on a passing play.
With USC trailing 3-0 just before the end of the first half, ASU quarterback Danny Sullivan tried to connect with Kyle Williams in front of the Arizona State bench. Will Harris, in man coverage, jumped the route and took it 55 yards for USC's first defensive touchdown of the season.
"That was the huge play of the game for us," Carroll said. "Nothing had happened for us in the first half, and they had just kicked their field goal. We answered with a touchdown on defense, which is incredibly fun."
The USC defense finished the game with four takeaways. In addition to his early pick, Harris intercepted Brock Osweiler's desperate heave towards the end zone to the end the game. Galippo also had an interception, and Josh Pinkard recovered a fumble.
The Trojan offense didn't do much Saturday to match the defensive effort. Matt Barkley looked pedestrian, the running game was good but not great and the offensive line struggled. Still, Damian Williams made those worries go away, briefly, by making another huge play.
Williams took a short pass for a 75-yard touchdown thanks to good downfield blocking and great vision. But while that play put the Trojans up 14-3 very early in the third quarter, the offense never added to the lead.
"It just felt like we couldn't get into that rhythm," Barkley said. "I don't know exactly what it was. We weren't clicking at all...
"This was the defense's win."
Barkley finished just 7-of-22 for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The offense on a whole gained just 258 yards, with 75 of those coming in a matter of seconds.
"We had trouble throwing and catching tonight," Carroll said. "It was the first time in a while- I think since (Barkley's) been out there- where we really had trouble throwing and catching the football. I don't know if it was the catches as much as it was the balls a little off.
"It was a little of everything. We just weren't clean."
The Trojans now have one weak to scrub up on offense, and a week to harness momentum on defense before facing another tough test. USC takes on Stanford Saturday at the Coliseum, starting off a three-game home stand to finish off the regular season.
Stanford is coming off of a 51-42 upset win over Oregon.
"We're glad we'll be home for the rest of the season," Allen Bradford said. "You get tired of traveling. We're going to be home. We'll be ready there. We're just all glad that this is our last away game.
"It seems like we've been on the road all year. To finish this off at home over a three-game stretch, it's looking good for us."