Southern California Trojans overcome sluggish start to beat Virginia Cavaliers

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 4:04 AM

LOS ANGELES - Mike London stormed up the tunnel that led out of the site of his first loss as Virginia's head coach, clapping his hands slowly and deliberately while shouting his frustrations into the chilly air. There were opportunities that his team wasted Saturday night against No. 16 Southern California, and there were those he said were taken away.

The end result of the Cavaliers' first trip to the state of California in program history was a 17-14 loss to a highly touted opponent that didn't live up to its billing. The Trojans were supposed to be bigger and faster and more athletic than Virginia, and perhaps they were.

But the Cavaliers (1-1) knew their effort and astuteness had overcome such obstacles enough to put them in position to claim their first win in a road opener since 2005. And that's what made the final outcome so difficult to swallow.

"It was there," junior cornerback Chase Minnifield said of his team's chance for victory. "It was there for the taking, and we let it slip away."

Virginia flooded the USC backfield early on and proved fairly stingy against a Trojans offense that London had hailed earlier in the week for its prolific talent. The Cavaliers defense excelled on third downs for the second straight week, allowing USC to convert on 5 of 15 attempts.

As proud as London, Minnifield and other Virginia players said they were of their team, they also acknowledged the mistakes that led to their defeat, which primarily included missed opportunities and untimely lapses in discipline.

Virginia wasted nearly all its numerous chances in the first half to take advantage of USC's lackluster start. The Virginia offense was able to finish an efficient drive only after the Trojans cracked through the Cavaliers defense - which was missing two of its top players for the second straight game - late in the half.

But USC still managed to enter halftime with a seven-point lead. The Cavaliers tied the score, 7-7, with just more than one minute left in the first half on a six-yard touchdown run by fifth-year senior tailback Keith Payne. On the ensuing USC drive, Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley sprung out of the pocket on a broken play and ran for a 20-yard gain into Virginia territory.

After Barkley was out of bounds, senior strong safety Trey Womack gave Barkley an extra shove, which drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. USC advanced 35 yards on the play and moved into scoring position. The Trojans scored six plays later on an 12-yard touchdown pass from Barkley to wideout Brandon Carswell.

Womack started in place of junior strong safety Rodney McLeod, who sat out once again because of a left knee injury. Senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling (hamstring) also was out of action for a second consecutive week.

Despite the absences of Dowling and McLeod, the Virginia defense managed to stifle USC's potent offense through most of the night thanks in large part to an effective early pass rush.

"The defense was tremendous," fifth-year senior quarterback Marc Verica said. "They played their hearts out. Guys stepping up for guys who are injured, and stuff like that. I can't say enough about them. They did everything they could to keep us in the game."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company