October 12, 2008

News and notes: Arizona State

At the end of 60 minutes of football, members of the Trojan defense faced the Peristyle while the USC band played "Conquest."

Behind the band was the evidence of a hard day's work, as the scoreboard read 28-0.

It was the first USC shutout since last year's 38-0 win at Notre Dame.

In the 10-game span since the last shutout, the Trojan defensive offices have been missing a welcomed visitor.

"In the defensive staff room, they put a skunk on the table when the opponent doesn't score," safety Taylor Mays said. "They take a lot of pride in that skunk."

The coaches aren't the only ones.

After defeating Arizona State 28-0 Saturday at the Coliseum, Kevin Ellison walked off the field knowing the Trojan defense did its job.

"The shutout is important to us. We definitely want to keep people off the board and play our best defense," Ellison said. "There's always stuff to fix and clean up, but all-in-all, it was a solid effort."

USC needed it too, especially with the offense struggling its way through much of the second half, when the Trojans turned the ball over five times.

"We just got sloppy, really sloppy," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "We easily could've gotten beaten today when you turn the ball over like this."

Carroll said, though, the story wasn't so much about the offense with the defensive excellence overshadowing everything else that happened.

"You can't look at this game without talking about the defense right off the bat," Carroll said. "When we were making our mistakes on offense and put the ball in their hands, the defense would just not hear of it.

"It was just a really dominant game. It wasn't flashy in any way. We were just playing hard."

USC center Kristofer O'Dowd said it's comforting knowing the defense has the ability to bailout the offense from time to time.

"Our defense played unbelievably," O'Dowd said. "They kept us in the game, and we put a lot on their shoulders. The score should've been a lot more than it was."

The shutout also could've easily been spoiled as the Trojans turned to their second unit late in the fourth quarter, but any chance of Arizona State scoring ended with T.J. Bryant's last-second interception.

"I really liked the fact that all the young guys were out there at the end of the game, scrambling around trying to keep them out of the end zone," Carroll said. "They got it done. That's good for those guys."

Bryant said the backups didn't have a choice. After the first team kept Arizona State off the board, the second team had to do the same.

"We were just going in to keep things right where they left off," Bryant said. "It's supposed to look the same. There's not supposed to be any drop off.

Draw it up

Joe McKnight's second touch of the game came with the Trojans backed up in their own end. Instead of rolling McKnight into the flat, which USC has done regularly, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called for an inside draw.

McKnight took the ball and bust free for a 41-yard gain, USC's longest run of the season, but he didn't let his success go to his head.

"It was just the beginning of the game. I couldn't get overconfident because that's how you get vulnerable and do things like drop the ball," McKnight said. "I just kept myself in my own little box and kept concentrating on the task at hand."

McKnight led USC with 143 yards - a career-best despite getting only 11 carries.

"Joe made something happen every time he had a chance," Carroll said. "He was the spark. He gave us some life."

McKnight's big-play ability has led to Reggie Bush comparisons, but McKnight said he's over that.

"After last year, I stopped worrying about trying to be last year," he said. "Last year when I came in, I tried to do all the same things that Reggie did. But, I need to do whatever the team needs me to do, whatever Joe needs to do.

"I try to put that stuff out of my mind. "

Windy City

The elements impacted plenty of Saturday's game, with a strong wind gusting inside the Coliseum.

Early in the game, Mark Sanchez rolled out and found Ronald Johnson with inside position. Johnson dropped the pass.

"I hate to use excuses, but the ball was shifting," Johnson said. "Regardless of how the wind blew, I should've caught that."

Carroll said Johnson's drop points to the difficulty the wind caused.

"He usually catches everything," Carroll said. "The wind was a little bit of a factor. We haven't had any of it all. The ball was getting blown around."

Punter Greg Woidneck told David Buehler that he couldn't wait for the game to end because of the less-than-ideal conditions.

Extra Points

• Leading 21-0 late in the second quarter, the Trojans elected to run a fake field goal instead of taking the points.

Carroll said the decision was made partly out of curiosity.

"I've been wanting to do it for awhile. We finally did it and didn't get it," Carroll said. "It was just a chance to keep the game moving and see if we could make the big play."

• When Sanchez connected with Damian Williams on a four-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter, it held statistical significance in a number of areas.

Sanchez has now thrown a touchdown pass in each of his eight starts.

For Williams, it was his team-leading fifth touchdown reception of the year. It's also the fourth-consecutive game where he's had a receiving touchdown.

• USC scored the final 41 points in its win over Oregon, and after shutting out Arizona State, the Trojans have now scored 69 unanswered points.

• Freshman Drew McAllister returned the opening kick 21 yards.

• Bryant's interception was the first of his career.


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