Turnovers make enough of a difference
October, 1, 2011
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Sometimes, two is all it takes.
Safety T.J. McDonald's two first-quarter interceptions on back-to-back drives were a big factor in the Trojans' eventual 48-41 win over Arizona on Saturday, cutting short two burgeoning Wildcat drives in USC territory and leading directly to 10 USC points.
In the end, the topic that Lane Kiffin and Co. harped on this week was proven a worthwhile focus. USC won the turnover margin, 2-1, and won the game.
USC didn't get any more turnovers after the 1:51 mark of the first quarter. But that was all the Trojans needed. Quarterback Matt Barkley made one mistake with his third-quarter interception, but they still won the turnover battle.
In truth, other than the two picks, USC played a poor defensive game. In quarters 2 through 4, Arizona quarterback Nick Foles had what sounds like a remarkable full game: 32-of-37 passing for 349 yards and four touchdowns. And Arizona outscored the Trojans 41-31 in that time.
But McDonald's picks stood as the difference between a win and a loss in what became a shootout.
"To get them early changed the momentum of the game," McDonald said afterward. "It pumped up the team and they were able to go put points on the board. It feels really great and gives our defense a lot of confidence."
That confidence wasn't particularly evident in the final 45 minutes of the game. But that can be partly attributed to USC's Cover-2 style on defense, which can leave holes that can be exploited with short passes.
"We had to follow our rules," said linebacker Dion Bailey, who had a game- and career-high 14 tackles and a pass break-up but no turnovers. "Hopefully they'll mess up and carry the ball loose and we'll come up and knock the ball out or something, but, unfortunately, that didn't happen for us in the second half, and that's why they were able to march on us and put up points."
After the game, the Trojans' head coach made a point subtly complimenting his defense. The unit was better, but not as good as he'd hoped they'd be.
"Credit our defense a bit," he said.
A bit made the difference.