USC defensive end Leonard Williams reaches out and grabs Oregon State running… (Steve Dykes / Getty Images )
Until a few weeks ago, USC's secondary was derided as perhaps the Trojans' weakest link.
But going into next Saturday's game at California, the unit continues to show noteworthy improvement.
USC defensive backs intercepted three passes Friday in the Trojans' 31-14 victory over Oregon State, which entered the game as college football's most productive passing offense.
It was the second week in a row that USC picked off three passes, raising its season interception total to 13. The Trojans were ranked eighth nationally in interceptions going into Saturday's games.
Josh Shaw has been the catalyst since defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shifted the junior from safety to cornerback for the second time this season.
Shaw regards himself as the unit's leader, so he was not shy about gesturing to Oregon State fans, raising his arms and egging them on, early in the second quarter when the Trojans were leading, 14-0, with the Beavers inside the 20-yard line.
Shaw intercepted a pass by Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion in the end zone to end the threat. It was his second interception in as many games.
"I really wanted the DBs to just step up to the challenge," Shaw said on the field after the game. "So I kind of wanted to come out here and be the guy that set the tempo, just hoping they would feed off me."
Safety Dion Bailey and cornerback Kevon Seymour intercepted passes in the fourth quarter.
It was the first interception for Seymour, who had said that he expected Oregon State to target him.
"I want the opportunity," Seymour said last week. "I'm like, 'Please go at me.' That's how I make a name. That's how I get better."
Seymour struggled at times, but he performed better as the game progressed.
"It was a tough game for me," he said. "A good experience for me."
Seymour was often matched up against Oregon State star receiver Brandin Cooks, who caught six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.
"We just had to shut down B-Cooks because he's a great receiver," Seymour said. "We had to try and eliminate him. And once we eliminated him, we felt like we had it."
Kessler keeps cool
Quarterback Cody Kessler completed 17 of 21 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, and was perhaps most impressive after Oregon State returned an interception for a tying touchdown in the second quarter.
The third-year sophomore from Bakersfield did not panic. Instead, he completed 10 of his next 12 passes.
Kessler's 71-yard touchdown pass to Marqise Lee on USC's first offensive play of the game was the Trojans' second-longest play this season. Kessler and Lee connected on a 80-yard touchdown against Boston College.
Lee was wide open down the middle on the scoring play against Oregon State.
"The hardest balls to catch are when you're wide open," Lee said. "But I concentrated as much as I can so I wouldn't drop that ball."
Kessler passed for more than 200 yards for the fifth consecutive game. He has passed for 10 touchdowns, with six interceptions.
Silas Redd's 140 yards rushing and Javorius Allen's 133 marked the first time that two USC backs rushed for more than 100 yards in a game since Redd and Curtis McNeal did it in last season's 27-9 victory over California.