Inside the Coliseum locker room

LOS ANGELES -- Notes, quotes, and anecdotes from the Coliseum after the Trojans (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) defeated Utah State (2-2, 1-0 MWC) by a score of 17-14.

USC head coach Lane Kiffin

Opening statement: “We knew it was a really good team we were going to play. Anytime you have a great player at quarterback (Chuckie Keeton) like they do, it’s going to be hard to take him out of the game. Their defense has played really tough and really physical.”

Trojans defense: “Another great showing. Four games in a row versus an offense that averaged 50 or 60 points a game. There were two plays we got screwed up on. Otherwise, it was just a lights-out game. It was really cool see the way they finished. So many times Utah State had an opportunity to score, but our defense just kept going out there.”

Offensive woes: “Obviously we want to score every time we have the ball. We weren’t able to do that. There were different reasons why throughout the game. We will go back to work and try to get better.”

Stopping Chuckie Keeton: "Clancy [Pendergast, the Trojans defensive coordinator] had a great game plan going in. We have a physical defense out there. There was a lot of stuff we set out to do in January for this program that is taking place.”

Utah State head coach Matt Wells

As expected: “What a hard-fought game. It came down exactly like we thought it was going to. It came down to the fourth quarter. I though it was going to be extremely physical and that’s exactly what it was. You glance at the stat sheet and you can see it. It’s down to the yard. It was an old-fashion gladiator slugfest. Defensively, we played on a short field the whole second half, and besides the one scoring drive, we weren’t able to flip the field and credit to them.”

Trojans defense: “We had time to throw and guys weren’t open down field. It’s twofold, whether it’s protecting the quarterback or getting open downfield. They present a bunch of problems on the back end and on the front end, too. That’s a really good front seven.”

More notes and anecdotes

Key(s) to victory: A poor punt by Utah State punter Jaron Bentrude late in the third quarter resulted in a Trojans early fourth-quarter, 16-yard drive, which resulted in the game-winning, 25-yard field goal by USC’s junior place-kicker, Andre Heidari.

The offensive scoring average: The Trojans scored 17 points against Utah State. Prior to the game with the Aggies, the Trojans were averaging 24.0 points per game.

Lee’s evaluation: Regarding what needs to be improved on offense, Trojans All-America wide receiver Marqise Lee said, “We had too many penalties. We just have to handle our assignments. We just have to adjust to what the defense shows us. I like it when a team (like Utah State) jumps into an eight-man front because it gives me one-on-one with the defensive back.”

Rush to defend: Prior to the Utah State game, the Trojans defense was allowing a net total of 43.7 yards rushing per game. Against the Aggies, the Trojans allowed 106 yards rushing.

Freshman wisdom: Trojans freshman strong safety Su’a Cravens said, “I am just glad we beat Utah State. They are a great team. We knew coming into this game it would be a great challenge. It really came down to the fourth quarter, and we knew we couldn’t afford to give up anything. All week, we worked on our rush techniques so [Keeton] couldn’t beat us.”

It’s offensive: Prior to the Utah State game, the Trojans were averaging 359.3 yards per game in total offense. Against the Aggies, the Trojans had 282 total yards on offense.

Marqise Lee on Marqise Lee: Asked how banged up he is after Lane Kiffin mentioned afterward that his star receiver had some physical issues, Lee grinned and said, “My body is solid. I would say 98 percent. It’s a physical sport. Utah State had some great schemes against us.”

Ground attack: Prior to the Utah State game, the Trojans were averaging 163.3 yards per game rushing. Against the Aggies, the Trojans rushed for 118-plus net yards.

Rush hour: According to Trojans senior starting right tackle Kevin Graf, “I was pleased in the first half with our line’s performance. After we got only three points in the second half, I was disappointed. We need to protect our quarterback better and just run the ball.”

Aggies aggression: Regarding the ferocity of the Utah State defensive front, Graf said, “Every play they ran on defense was a blitz. They started with a lot of 3-4 in the first half, but then they switched into an eight-man front with a bunch of movement from their linebackers and defensive backs.”

The telestrator: On his 30-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Cody Kessler in the second quarter, Trojans junior tight end Xavier Grimble said, “I knew I was going to score as soon as I got to the line. I saw the coverage, and that they were in Cover 2. The linebacker wasn’t stacking me, so when I break loose, it’s bad news for the defense. They didn’t play Cover 2 the whole game.”

String snapped: Trojans sophomore tailback Tre Madden was denied his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Madden, who rushed for 93 yards, did score on a 1-yard sweep in the first quarter.

The defensive scoring average: The Trojans defense allowed 14 points to Utah State. Prior to the Aggies game, the Trojans were allowing 10.0 points per game.

Coliseum intimidation: Asked whether Utah State might have been intimidated by the surroundings, Trojans senior defensive end Devon Kennard said, “I don’t know if we intimidated them, but we kept coming and coming at them. We really didn’t have a turnover, so it’s something we have to improve. The game got close because we let them score twice.”

Getting defensive: Prior to the Utah State game, the Trojans were allowing an average of 212.3 total yards on defense. Against the Aggies, the Men of Troy allowed 285 total yards.

The meat wagon: Starting freshman offensive left tackle Chad Wheeler walked out of the Coliseum locker room wearing an icepack around his left knee.

Pass defense: Prior to the Utah State game, the Trojans were allowing 168.7 passing yards per game. Against the Aggies, the Trojans allowed 179 passing yards.

Getting better: On his defense’s performance, sophomore tackle Leonard Williams said, “Our defense came out today and executed. Even if we weren’t perfect, our defense is getting better and better. I think we’re getting better because off the field we’ve been building chemistry, which makes us better on the field.”

Tackling the issue: The Trojans defense was led by Williams with eight tackles followed by linebacker Lamar Dawson and corner Josh Shaw with seven apiece.

AD: One of the new traditions in 2013 is a former Trojans All-American leading the Trojans on to the field before the opening kickoff. Former Trojans All-American tailback Anthony Davis was this week’s selection.

Passing fancy: Prior to the Utah State game, the Trojans were averaging 163.3 passing yards per game. Against the Aggies, the Trojans passed for 164 yards.

Marqise Lee on Cody Kessler: Evaluating his quarterback, Lee said, “He’s taking his time now. That’s what I like to see as a receiver. You don’t want to ever see a quarterback rush. We’re still working on getting on the same page.

The afternoon turnstile: Coliseum attendance for Saturday’s game was announced as 63,482. Last week against Boston College, the announced attendance was 62,006.

Getting better: Prior to the Utah State game, the Trojans were averaging 64.7 penalty yards per game. Against the Aggies, the Trojans were penalized eight times for 58 yards.

Getting worse: The Trojans were just 3 of 14 in third down conversions.

Scouting the talent: Representatives from the Holiday Bowl and the Maxwell Award were in attendance. There were no NFL scouts present.

Next Saturday: The Trojans travel to Arizona State for a Pac-12 South showdown with kickoff scheduled either 7 or 7:30 p.m. local Tempe time.