USC defense forces issue as offense stalls in win over Washington

SEATTLE — It was supposed to be the year of the USC offense.

The Trojans feature one of the most high-profile quarterbacks in college football, two of the best receivers in the country and two 1,000-yard running backs.

But with the Trojans at the midpoint of the season, it's the defense that has continually stepped up.

The unit did it again Saturday at CenturyLink Field, leading the Trojans to a 24-14 victory over Washington.

On a day when the offense once again stumbled and quarterback Matt Barkley amassed his lowest passing yardage total since his sophomore season, the defense came up with multiple key plays to help the Trojans improve to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12 Conference.

Silas Redd rushed for 155 yards, but USC's offense scored only 17 points and was shut out in the second half.

Meanwhile, the Trojans intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles, returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and sacked Washington quarterback Keith Price five times.

That was enough for Coach Lane Kiffin, who was happy to be going home after playing four of six games on the road.

"I continue to remind myself there's one goal and that's to win the game," Kiffin said. "Are the numbers what we're used to? No. But we won."

The Trojans won because of a defense that allowed Price to pass for two touchdowns but came up big when it most needed to.

"The offense is struggling a little bit, but they can always count on us to have their backs," said linebacker Dion Bailey, who intercepted a pass and forced a fumble. "Every offense can't be explosive week in and week out, so when they're stumbling a little bit we've got to be there to pick them up."

Barkley, who played so efficiently in the previous week's victory at Utah, completed only 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. He struggled after being sacked midway through the second quarter and Kiffin appeared hesitant to call anything but running plays in most third-down situations.

Barkley completed only three of 10 passes for 66 yards in the second half.

Asked if Barkley was injured, Kiffin said no.

"This is not about anybody's numbers, or the Heisman any of that," Kiffin said. "This is about winning games. We did the best thing to win today."

USC took a 24-7 halftime lead on an Andre Heidari field goal, a touchdown run by Redd, Barkley's scoring pass to tight end Xavier Grimble and cornerback Anthony Brown's block and return of a punt.

But the Trojans let the Huskies back into the game.

Washington (3-3, 1-2) blocked a field-goal attempt and Price went to work, connecting with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a touchdown that pulled the Huskies to within 10 points.

Washington lost an opportunity when Austin Coons' 47-yard field-goal attempt was wide left, but Price got another chance early in the fourth quarter and drove the Huskies to USC's six-yard line.

But on second and goal, Price faked a handoff and left the ball exposed. USC safety Jawanza Starling stripped it from his grasp and fell on the fumble to end the threat.

"It took the life right out of the crowd," said Starling, who made a season-turning play on a fumble last year at Notre Dame.

Josh Shaw intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter and Bailey caused Price to fumble with just over two minutes left.

So chalk one up for the defense.

The Trojans held Washington running back Bishop Sankey to 54 yards, the first time in four games he amassed less than 100.

"I feel like the defense is kind of carrying the team," Starling said. "But . . . there will come a time when the offense will have to carry the defense. It's a team game. It takes both sides."

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