Lane Kiffin's USC team relied on its running game to preserve a 24-14 win over the Huskies.
Before matching wits with Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, Lane Kiffin needed to fight the urges within himself to let loose with the playbook.
Win the game. Win the game. Win the game.
He must have repeated that phrase at least six times while standing in a tunnel beneath CenturyLink Field after an un-Trojans-like 24-14 victory over the Huskies in front of 66,202 on Saturday.
Kiffin is not only USC’s coach, he’s the coordinator of an offense loaded with weapons at nearly every position.
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The Trojans have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Matt Barkley and a pair of receivers who’ll be playing in the NFL in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
But on this chilly Seattle afternoon, Kiffin took the ball out of Barkley’s hands and gave it to junior running back Silas Redd. The Penn State transfer responded with 155 yards on 26 carries.
His 57-yard burst on the first play set up USC’s first score — a 23-yard field goal — and set the tone for an inconsistent Trojans offense that relied heavily on the run.
“Every game is not going to be like that,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to have to score more at some point. We have played some lower-ranked offenses compared to what’s coming, so every game will be different. The bottom line is to win the game.”
USC did its damage early, scoring all of its points in the first half to improve to 5-1 and 3-0 in the Pac-12.
After intermission, however, the Trojans accumulated just 138 yards and failed to get a first down on four of seven drives.
Kiffin admitted he didn’t want to expose Barkley to a UW pass rush that sacked him twice.
“I continue to remind myself that 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.
“So yeah, we played conservative once we got a lead like that. We said it all along this isn’t about numbers or Heismans or any of that. This is about winning games and we did the best thing to win the day.”
On most days, USC’s winning recipe involves heavy doses of Barkley, but this time the Trojans were led by Redd, a ballhawking defense that forced four turnovers and a special teams that blocked a punt for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Barkley completed 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards, all season lows.
Perhaps the more distressing part of Barkley’s pedestrian performance was his inefficiency on third down, when he completed 1 for 5 passes in the second half for 14 yards.
Barkley admitted the run-oriented attack isn’t normal — USC attempted 40 runs and 20 passes — but he’ll take the results.
“I wouldn’t say frustrating,” he said. “Obviously I want to pass the ball but I’m happy with the win. If we’re scoring and getting the win, I’m happy with that.”
In consecutive weeks Washington (3-3, 1-2) has played teams with national championship aspirations.
The Huskies didn’t put up much of a fight in a 52-21 defeat at No. 2 Oregon, but put a scare into USC.
A look at the scores in UW’s defeats suggests which opponent is best equipped to play for the BCS title and which team is good enough to play in a BCS bowl, but not quite elite.
At the midpoint in the season, even Barkley acknowledged the Trojans aren’t playing like a team that had been the preseason No. 1.
“We definitely need to improve in a lot of areas,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.