The USC defense struggled in space, on third down and in the two-minute drill.
And yet it was the much-maligned Trojan back seven that forced two critical Arizona turnovers and sparking the 24-21 win Saturday evening at blustery Arizona Stadium in front of 54,722.
"I thought our defense made some critical stops," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "Obviously pleased to get out of here with a win."
Shareece Wright strip-sacked Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles and later recovered a David Douglas fumble forced by Smith. Those two takeaways led to 10 USC points, a 7-yard Matt Barkley to Rhett Ellison touchdown pass and Joe Houston's 30-yard field goal.
"I feel like we did a good job," Smith said. "We needed a little momentum shift at the time."
Those plays helped offset continued struggles by the USC (7-3, 4-3 Pac-10) pass defense, which surrendered 353 yards to Foles. Terrence Miller caught seven receptions for 116 yards, while Juron Criner added 98 on six catches.
While they frequently forced Arizona (7-3, 4-3 Pac-10) into third and long, the Wildcats seemed to have a response every time by setting picks to get receivers open.
"We were yelling it out sometimes," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "They did a good job of executing."
Arizona converted 7 of 8 third down tried in the first half and finished 11 of 16.
"It doesn't do any good if you don't get off on third down," an animated assistant head coach Monte Kiffin said "We got to third down and didn't win and it was really frustrating."
Then again, USC was able to move down the field with similar ease, putting together drives of 10, 17, 15, 10 and 12 plays, holding the ball for 37:27.
The Trojans rushed for 205 yards, including a career-high 160 by Marc Tyler. Barkley was 21 of 35 for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception that careened off the hands of tight end Jordan Cameron straight to safety Adam Hall.
Kiffin was quick to credit the offensive line, a group he had called out after the loss to Oregon.
"They've taken a lot of heat and criticism from me more than anybody probably," Kiffin said. "To come in here at their place where they had shut down a lot of people and rush for over 200 yards and give up no sacks says a lot about them."
USC had just one negative run before taking three knees to end the game.
"We were able to come together as a unit," right tackle Tyron Smith said. "We worked on coming together all week and our effort paid off."
"A lot of people doubted us and we just came here and jumped on them early," Tyler said. "It's a great win."
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