You won’t find a more well-rounded special teams performance than the one put together by the Trojans on Saturday night and they did it without the services of All Pac-12 placekicker Andre Heidari, who stayed home due to a knee injury.
Heidari’s replacements were walk-ons Craig McMahon for kickoffs and Alex Wood for extra points. McMahon hit three kickoffs into the end zone and didn’t allow a return past the 25-yard line. Wood – a true freshman – was successful on all six of his extra point attempts.
Kyle Negrete averaged 50-yards per punt on three punts, including a key 65-yard punt and roll that changed the field position of the game at the time. There was also good coverage play with big hits by Tony Burnett and Soma Vainuku.
A pair of punt returns provided momentum changes for the Trojans. Nickell Robey took a hard hit but kept moving forward to give USC the ball near midfield, the play provided a spark for a team that had been listless to that point. A trio of runs by Curtis McNeal got the ball in the red zone and Matt Barkley quickly hit Marqise Lee to give the Trojans their opening score. The second key return came from Robert Woods at the start of the fourth quarter with USC only up 21-16, he took the ball near midfield and went 31-yards to set up great field position and an eventual Barkley to Xavier Grimble touchdown pass.
On a night when the Trojans had to fight through some inconsistent play on offense and defense, it was the special teams who provided a solid foundation throughout the game.