It felt tantalizingly close at times last night at Aloha Stadium, except for one thing.
Hawaii’s defense simply couldn’t stop No. 14 USC’s high-powered offense from fighting on. The Warriors failed to come up with a big defensive play until late in the Trojans’ 49-36 victory.
Through three quarters, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley carved up the UH secondary with passes to wideout Ronald Johnson between punishing carries by junior tailback Marc Tyler.
UH got to Barkley once, a sack by junior defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu, and besides that temporary breakthrough, no USC play from scrimmage went for lost yards.
Defense came at a premium on both sides; the Warriors forced USC to punt just once in each half in what became a showcase in offensive might at more than 1,000 yards between the teams.
"Everything from spring ball to fall camp led me to believe that we’d be further along," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "A lot of the issues with our play stemmed not from what they were doing, but what we were inflicting upon ourselves. … There were some things we’ve got to correct. Tackling is one of them."
As bleak as things looked early in the fourth quarter, with USC up 42-23 and marching yet again into the red zone, opportunity knocked — once.
Senior safety Mana Silva (game-high 10 tackles) recovered a fumble by USC reserve receiver Brandon Carswell, resulting in a UH score by Kealoha Pilares that pulled the Warriors to within 42-30 with 6:48 left.
But USC offered a punishing response: a 44-yard scoring jaunt by Tyler on the very next play from scrimmage. At that stage, UH couldn’t afford to swap scores.
"We had the momentum, we just have to keep it. We can’t get the momentum, then have them just swing it right back," Tuipulotu said. "That’s one thing we learned from this game that we gotta work on.
"This game … showed us where we’re at. We were trading blow for blow with them, they just had a little bit more ammo tonight."
UH stopped USC for the first time midway through the second quarter when the Trojans faced a third-and-9 situation at midfield. Tuipulotu, a junior, broke through the Trojans line and dropped Barkley, forcing USC to punt.
Hawaii scored on its ensuing drive to make it 20-13. The suddenly raucous stadium crowd, sensing a turn, greeted the home team with chants of "defense!"
But the closest UH came to delivering on the pleas was a Barkley pass broken up by linebacker Corey Paredes, not enough to halt the drive as USC scored again to go up 27-13.
On the Trojans’ first drive, Barkley hit 6-foot-4 wide receiver David Ausberry in one-on-one coverage against cornerback Lametrius Davis. Ausberry shoved the 6-foot Davis away and sprinted the final 25 yards for a 46-yard scoring strike.
"I’m disappointed with how we started, but I felt we were able to settle down and play better football the rest of the game," Aranda said.