Lane Kiffin learned his lesson about not taking chances on the road a month ago when Southern California was left questioning all that went wrong following an upset loss.
Welcome to the new look of USC, where being a little bland is just fine as long as the wins keep coming.
"I continue to remind myself there is one goal and that is to win the game. Are the numbers what we're use to? No. But we won," Kiffin said. "Remember two times ago we went on the road and we weren't sitting here with a win. Yeah we played conservative once we got a lead like that. We've said it all along, this isn't about anybody's numbers or Heisman or any of that. This is about winning games."
Anthony Brown blocked a punt and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown, Jawanza Starling forced a key fourth-quarter fumble, and No. 11 USC used big plays from its defense and special teams to overcome an inconsistent offense in a 24-14 win over Washington on Saturday night.
Silas Redd rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in the first half and Matt Barkley added an 18-yard TD pass to Xavier Grimble as the Trojans continued rebuilding their resume following last month's loss to Stanford that appeared to end their national championship hopes.
The Trojans (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) were held scoreless in the second half and got needed help from a defense that sacked Washington QB Keith Price five times and forced four turnovers to give USC its third straight win.
Barkley finished 10 of 20 for 167 yards, while Redd had 155 yards on 26 carries, his second-best game since transferring from Penn State. Curtis McNeal added another 58 yards on 11 attempts as the Trojans finished with 204 yards on the ground. The 10 completions for Barkley were his fewest since 2010 at Oregon State when he hit just 10 of 19 passes.
Barkley didn't care about the uncharacteristically low numbers that including hitting on just 3 of 10 passes in the second half.
"I wouldn't say frustrating. Obviously I want to pass the ball, but I'm happy with the win," Barkley said. "It wasn't a glamorous win but if we're scoring and winning then I'm happy with that. Our ground game came today. Our defense was on fire forcing turnovers. It was a team win."
This was USC's first trip north to Seattle since 2009, when the Trojans were upset by the Huskies across town at Husky Stadium in coach Steve Sarkisian's first year of rebuilding at Washington. For most of the first half, it appeared the Trojans would coast and get a little revenge for their last trip here. USC scored on three of its first four drives and went up 17-7, the only stop coming when Barkley was intercepted by Marcus Peters.
Defensively, the Trojans held Washington to 6 total yards in the second quarter and didn't give the Huskies (3-3, 1-2) a first down between the end of the first quarter and midway through the third quarter.
Brown then added the capper to a nearly flawless first half. USC was close on two previous punt attempts before Travis Coons went back to kick following a fourth three-and-out with 5 minutes left in the half. Brown blew through the personal protectors in front of Coons and blocked the kick, then picked up the ball in the scrum and went the final 7 yards to give the Trojans a 24-7 lead.
It was just the beginning of the Trojans' big plays.
Down 24-14, Washington was on the cusp of making it a one possession game with a first-and-goal at the USC 6. The Huskies had run the ball on six straight plays and used a third-down completion to fullback Jonathan Amosa for 9 yards to get inside the Trojans 10. Bishop Sankey gained 3 yards on first down, and on second down, Price rolled from the pocket. As he pump-faked, Starling reached in and stripped the ball loose, then fell on it at the USC 4 after two teammates failed to corral the loose ball with 11:03 left.
Price was also intercepted by Josh Shaw off a deflection with 4:13 left and was hit and fumbled with 2 minutes to go with Leona Williams falling on the loose ball.
"It's a testament to how we've been practicing," Starling said. "We've been practicing very hard and they say how you practice is how you're going to play. That has carried over to the games. It's just a more experienced defense than a couple years ago. We've been in the system for a while. A lot of the guys know what they're supposed to do and are just out there having fun, playing football."
Price missed his first three passes then hit 15 straight throws at one point as he tried to rally the Huskies. He finished 20 of 28 for 198 yards, with TD tosses for 17 yards to Kasen Williams and 29 yards to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But after Washington committed five turnovers last week at Oregon, another four against the Trojans — plus the blocked punt — was not what the Huskies needed in the final game of a gauntlet opening stretch that featured LSU, Stanford and Oregon.
Williams, the Huskies leading receiver, didn't have a catch the final 46 minutes of the game as he was hounded by cornerback Nickell Robey. But Price put the blame for this loss on himself.
"I'm OK physically, but mentally it's rough dealing with something like this, knowing that you had an opportunity to win the game and I mess it up, and on several occasions," Price said. "I'll grow from this. I've never really had to deal with stuff like this before and it's good for me."