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Torin Harris' game-saving interception

9/3/2011

LOS ANGELES -- Torin Harris was beaten -- badly -- late in Saturday's game, an eventual 19-17 win over visiting Minnesota at the Coliseum.

He got crossed up on midway through the fourth quarter on a deep pass to Marcus Jones as the Gophers drove into the red zone and then whiffed on Minnesota's Brandon Green two plays later on the Gophers' second touchdown of the day.

But he redeemed himself on the Trojans' next defensive possession when he picked off a pass intended for Da'Jon McKnight and sealed off USC's season-opening victory. It was as if Harris spent USC's 12-play drive in between those drives studying the first page in his coaches' playbook: Forget what you just messed up and make the next play.

"I had to bounce back and show my composure," Harris said afterward. "That's what I'm here to do -- try to put my name in the stars."

Harris finished the game with four solo tackles, but the interception -- the first of his college career -- was his only notable play. It came on a third-and-one at the Minnesota 28-yard line, as Harris jumped in front of a quick route and collected the ball with relative ease.

"The kid made a great play," said the guy who threw the ball, Minnesota backup quarterback Max Shortell. "I threw to the back shoulder to Da'Jon and he made a great play."

The Gophers had all the momentum at the time, having just come off a score and then a disappointing drive by the Trojans that saw them commit four penalties and choose to punt at the opposing 37-yard line. But the interception changed things around and allowed USC to run out the clock with running back Curtis McNeal.

"It was a huge play for us," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said. "Last year we really didn't make those plays, so it gives us a great deal of confidence to know that we can close a game out late in the fourth quarter."

The fact Harris, a redshirt sophomore, started Saturday's game qualifies as a mild surprise. Tony Burnett had been leading the race for the No. 2 corner spot throughout fall camp and Harris had been considered to be the leader at nickel back. That flip-flopped sometime this week and Harris began the game ahead of Burnett, although both players essentially played most of the game.

It was clear Minnesota knew whom to target. The Gophers hardly threw at Nickell Robey and targeted Harris and Burnett a number of times. On the final two drives, it was almost as if Robey's side of the field didn't exist. Shortell exclusively threw at his slot receiver and whomever Harris was lined up against, in the hope of repeating what teams did to the Trojans again and again last year.

But what worked so often in 2010 didn't work in the 2011 season opener. USC didn't give up a final-drive score, as it had five times last year.

"Everybody was criticizing our fourth quarter two-minute drills," Harris said. "And we worked on it a lot in the offseason and in fall camp. It worked out a lot."