USC linebacker Melvin Simmons says the defense enters every game with a goal: Hold the opponent to no more than 18 points.
It didn't seem likely the Trojans could accomplish that feat against Arizona State, which began Saturday's game averaging 34.4 points.
But with the help of several big plays by USC's linebackers, the Trojans were able to contain Sun Devil quarterback Andrew Walter and frustrate one of the nation's most potent passing attacks en route to a 34-13 vic- tory.
"That's the way we approach it," Simmons said. "Maybe sometimes teams are going to get some yards on us, but they're not going to score over 18 points. If we do that, we feel we should win."
Simmons and fellow linebackers Mike Pollard and Matt Grootegoed made key contributions to a defensive effort that allowed Arizona State to convert only three of 14 third-down opportunities and neither of its two fourth-down tries.
"We made a big statement," Pollard said.
With USC leading, 27-13, Pollard teamed with cornerback Marcell Allmond to stop tailback Mike Williams for no gain on fourth and one from the USC 27 with 10:15 to play.
"We've been practicing all week on stopping that [play]," Pollard said. "We all sprang to the running back.
"Everything was perfect on that play."
Grootegoed, the Trojans' leading tackler for the season, recovered a fumble by Walter on Arizona State's second possession to set up the game's first touchdown, and he also had a sack.
USC had four sacks for minus-31 yards and forced three turnovers.
"The defense has to keep doing that," Pollard said. "We're the dirty boys. We do the dirty work. The offense can get all the glory, but we don't mind as long as we keep winning."
Though Justin Fargas continued to impress as the Trojans' No. 1 tailback, former starter Sultan McCullough made his presence felt as well.
McCullough rushed for 69 yards in four carries, including a 59-yard run in the second quarter to the Arizona State 17. He was disappointed to be caught from behind by cornerback Brett Hudson.
"I wish I could have scored, but I didn't realize [Hudson] was so close to me," McCullough said. "I took the wrong angle. You want to finish, but it was cool. I stayed in that series and we still scored."
Three plays after McCullough's long run, Palmer completed a two-yard scoring pass to tight end Alex Holmes for a 17-3 lead.
USC free safety DeShaun Hill stopped Arizona State's first drive of the second half by making a diving interception in the Trojan end zone. Walter's pass on third and 11 from the USC 27 was thrown a good 20 yards past any Sun Devil receiver.
"[Cornerback] Darrell Rideaux did a great job of jamming the receiver, and I was back there just reading the quarterback's eyes," Hill said. "I saw [Walter] turn and look and deliver the ball. I just broke as hard as I could and was able to catch it."
Freshman Tom Malone's 72-yard punt in the third quarter was the longest for USC since John Stonehouse boomed a 76-yarder against Washington State in 1994.... Kareem Kelly caught a pass in his 45th consecutive game.
-- Rob Fernas
Mike Williams' ankle was sore enough to limit him to one reception. But there was nothing wrong with his arm.
The freshman receiver completed a pass to Keary Colbert for 19 yards on a trick play in the second quarter. Williams caught a lateral toss from Carson Palmer, took two steps toward the line of scrimmage and launched a left-handed toss down the sideline to Colbert that helped set up a field goal.
"I was going to my left so I threw it with my left hand," said a smiling Williams.
His lone reception was good for an 18-yard touchdown that opened the scoring five minutes into the game. It was the seventh consecutive game Williams has caught a scoring pass and was his 11th touchdown reception of the season.
Otherwise, Palmer's passes eluded his grasp.
"Obviously, the timing was off," he said. "Normally, Carson never overthrows me. I was a step slow. I couldn't go as hard as I wanted to."
Williams is 69 yards receiving short of 1,000 and 43 short of breaking the Pac-10 record for a freshman.
-- Steve Henson