So much for setting high goals.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley spoke earlier this week about Barkley cutting down his interceptions –- to nothing -– in the Trojans’ final three games.
Well, that didn’t happen.
Barkley had three passes intercepted by Arizona State on Saturday at the Coliseum, but USC earned a hard-fought, 38-17 victory anyway when its defense –- yes, contrary to some reports, the Trojans have one -- rose to the occasion in the second half.
Oh, and Marqise Lee had another wow-did-you-see-that? kind of game.
And running back Curtis McNeal had a pretty good one for USC as well, rushing for 163 yards in 31 carries while scoring three touchdowns.
The Trojans still look far from what they were expected to be when they were tabbed as the nation’s No. 1 team in the preseason. In fact, the home crowd turned on the Trojans with boos several times in the first half after turnovers -- USC had three in the first half, five in the game.
Still, USC improved to 7-3 overall, 5-3 in Pac-12 Conference play and has a showdown next Saturday at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. Arizona State fell to 5-5, 3-4.
UCLA, which led the Pac-12 South Division with a 4-2 record this week, plays at Washington State in a late game on Saturday.
The final score was not indicative of the way USC struggled.
The Trojans trailed, 17-14, early in the third quarter after a 28-yard field goal by Arizona State’s Jon Mora. The score was set up by the Sun Devils’ third interception of a Barkley pass – on his first pass of the second half.
But from that point on, the tide turned. USC scored 24 unanswered points – the three touchdowns all by McNeal.
On USC’s next possession, McNeal capped a drive in which he gained 36 yards in five carries with a five-yard touchdown run.
The Trojans defense then had a moment, with end Morgan Breslin sacking Taylor Kelly for a nine-yard loss on a fourth-and-one play from near midfield.
USC’s offense capitalized on that when Barkley hooked up with McNeal on a 22-yard pass play for a touchdown that put the Trojans ahead, 28-17, just before the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, USC tacked on a 26-yard field goal by Andre Heidari and a 27-yard run by McNeal.
The field goal was set up by a spectacular 38-yard run by Lee, who ran six times for 66 yards and had 10 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown.
Barkley completed 20 of 33 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions.