USC beats Minnesota but doesn’t exactly light up the scoreboard

USC could not have hoped for a better debut Saturday at the Coliseum.

It looked picture-perfect. It even sounded good.

Yes, the new giant video board mounted at the west end of the stadium was a huge hit with the fans.

The No. 25 Trojans?


A 19-17 victory over Minnesota won’t do much to alleviate concerns in Year 2 of Coach Lane Kiffin’s tenure.

Despite record-setting performances by receiver Robert Woods and quarterback Matt Barkley, the Trojans were shut out in the second half and needed a last-minute interception by Torin Harris to hold off the Golden Gophers before an announced crowd of 68,273.

“You don’t score a point in the whole second half? I never thought that would happen,” an annoyed Kiffin said.

It did, against a Minnesota team that came in as a three-touchdown underdog.

“If we had played with that confidence and intensity in the first half,” Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill said, “maybe it would have been a different story.”

The Trojans were ahead, 19-3, at halftime on Barkley’s three touchdown passes to Robert Woods, who set a USC single-game record with 17 receptions.

But the second half was a different story, the Trojans committing penalties, turning the ball over on a snap that sailed over Barkley’s head, and failing to convert third- and fourth-down opportunities.

That doesn’t bode well for a Trojans team that will play host to Utah next week in the first game in Pacific 12 Conference history.

“We’re going to have to score more points against those guys,” senior fullback Rhett Ellison said.

Either that, or rely on the defense to come up big once again.

Last year, of course, that would have been unthinkable.

The unit set the tone for an uneven season by looking confused and tackling poorly in an opening victory at Hawaii. The problems continued, the Trojans losing consecutive games against Washington and Stanford in the final seconds because of defensive breakdowns.

On Saturday, the defense played well, stifling Golden Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray, giving up only a first-half field goal, and making the kind of game-saving play that was sorely lacking in 2010.

“It was a chance for us to kind of redeem ourselves with our two-minute defense and get a big stop,” middle linebacker Chris Galippo said.

The defense got its chance thanks to the Trojans’ lone turnover.

Barkley was lined up in the shotgun formation on a fourth-down play when center Khaled Holmes snapped the ball high to the quarterback’s right side. It rolled and was pushed 32 yards before Minnesota players fell on it at USC’s 30.

Running back Duane Bennett scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 19-10 and, all of a sudden, two failed two-point conversion attempts by USC in the first half loomed large.

It got dicier for USC in the fourth quarter when Max Shortell replaced an ailing Gray.

The 6-foot-6 freshman completed a fourth-down pass for a first down, setting up a touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Green, who beat Harris with just more than eight minutes left.

The tension on the Trojans’ sideline and in the stadium was palpable when Minnesota got the ball back with two minutes remaining.

“I had flashbacks to last year like I think everyone did,” said Barkley, who passed for 304 yards and set a school record with 34 completions.

“‘Ah, man,’” cornerback Nickell Robey said he recalled thinking. “‘I hope this isn’t a repeat of last year.’

“But the defense came together and said, ‘This is not going to happen again.’”

Minnesota started at its nine and faced a third-and-one situation at the 28.

Harris saved the victory by slipping in front of receiver Da’Jon McKnight for the interception.

“I was telling myself, I can’t get down . . . let that last touchdown go,” Harris said. “I have to come back and make a play.”