"Probably the most miserable 2-0 locker room I've ever been in," first-year USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
"There was no celebrating, no chants. Everybody sitting there with their head down," defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said.
"I'm extremely disappointed with our performance," Kiffin said. "We expect to play much better that that and we need to go back and work."
Just nine days removed from a similar escape act at Hawaii, this time it was the defense bailing out the offense.
"We reversed the roles a whole lot this week," Casey said. "They helped us last week and so we helped them this week."
However, both sides were equally culpable for 13 penalties for 140 yards.
"Whenever you have that many penalties, it's tough to get into a rhythm," offensive guard Khaled Holmes said.
USC had a 47-yard Ronald Johnson touchdown reception negated by a holding call, several other drives stalled by penalties while extending those of Cavaliers (1-1).
"We got to find a way," Kiffin said. "They're critical ones too. We get holding penalties on a (47)-yard touchdown pass and on a fourth down conversion, those are big time, costly 14-point penalties."
Kiffin, who has stressed discipline and accountability since becoming head coach in January, was again left lamenting the lack of both.
"We're not getting it done. I'm sure we lead the world in penalties right now," he said.
But the Trojans were also bailed out by an illegal block on a Virginia fake punt that left Virginia coach Mike London fuming. London said officials later admitted they blew the call.
"I was told they blew the call by the guy who made the call and the referee," said London, whose team was flagged nine times for 101 yards. "It's a shame, a crying shame."
In spite of the choppy game, quarterback Matt Barkley managed two touchdown drives in the final 4:46 of the first half, including a heart-stopping 11-yard scoring pass to Brandon Carswell with just 0:01 second left on the clock.
"I knew that play was going to work," said Barkley, who had a crucial 20-yard scramble on that drive. "The middle of the field was wide open. We had to score."
Barkley was 20 of 35 for 202 yards with no interceptions. His other touchdown came on a four-yard pass to Jordan Cameron.
USC threw passes on 12 of its final 13 snaps in the second quarter, leading Kiffin to consider abandoning the run as he had in the 2007 Rose Bowl. He did not, but probably could have as the ground game managed just 3.8 yards per carry.
"I don't want to get into that world even though I think Matt would do well in it. It's just not a good world to get into when you're throwing the ball 45 times a game, not for us. We want balance," Kiffin said.
Marc Tyler rushed for 67 yards, while freshman Dillon Baxter added 49 on nine carries in his Trojan debut.
There were positive signs on defense, which held Virginia to 262 total yards before its final scoring drive.
"I don't know if encouraged would be the word, I kind of expected that. There was a lot of improvement," Kiffin said.
Safety T.J. McDonald notched the first Trojan takeaway of the year, intercepting Cavaliers quarterback Marc Verica (17 of 36 for 190 yards and one touchdown) in the end zone.
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