LOS ANGELES -- Throughout the week leading up to the Minnesota game one of the biggest concerns for the Trojans was the status of middle linebacker Chris Galippo's injured shoulder. The senior had hurt the shoulder earlier in fall camp and was forced to spend time on the sideline while freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson took extended reps at his spot.
Needless to say, the thought of missing the season opener didn't appeal to Galippo. He eventually was able to practice enough to convince the coaches he was ready to go. As it turned out, USC needed his experience and leadership more than it could have imagined as the Golden Gophers put up a strong fight in a game that went down to the wire before the Trojans pulled out a 19-17 win.
"The plan coming into the game was for me to play but for Lamar to also get some reps along the way," Galippo said. "As the game went along though, the situation just called for me to stay out there because we were facing an offense that had a whole bunch of shifts, checks and motions. There was no way I was going to come out because of my shoulder. Once we got in the flow of the game the shoulder felt fine."
The early part of the game was dominated by the Trojans as they jumped out to a 12-0 lead behind a dominant pass-catch performance from Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. It certainly looked as if the Trojans were on their way to the kind of victory that would have allowed Galippo to spend the latter part of the game watching from the sidelines.
Things changed in the third quarter with a momentum switch that started with a fumbled shotgun snap from Khaled Holmes to Barkley. A few key penalties then took the Trojans out of their rhythm. Next, the Gophers lost their starting quarterback Marqueis Gray to injury, and their offense switched from a running quarterback to one who primarily threw the ball.
"When Marqueis went down we had to change the way we approached the game," Galippo said. "We were playing close to the line of scrimmage but when he came out of the game we had to settle back into our pass drops. When we knocked him out of the game it forced them to do some different things, but I thought we adjusted well with some of our blitz packages.
"We blitzed once or twice almost every single series. I was able to get sacks, the D-line was able to get sacks, a couple of our corners had sacks. When you can get pressure it forces quarterbacks to make bad throws and we took advantage of that."
With the Trojans offense unable to put any points on the board in the second half the Gophers were able to close the gap. They were only down 19-17 when they got the ball deep in their own end with just more than two minutes to go. The situation brought back some unpleasant memories, as three of the five losses in 2010 came on last-minute drives for game-winning field goals.
"As a coach you never want a game to come down to a two-minute drill, but lo and behold with 2:07 left it's 19-17 and we've got to go out and slam the door," USC linebackers coach Joe Barry said. "Last year we were faced with those situations and we didn't slam the door. I think it was great for our defense to have to go out in that situation today and put it on our shoulders to win the game."
Before the defense took the field for that final drive, Galippo and the other veteran players gathered the unit in a huddle and reminded them that this was exactly the scenario that had caused so many problems last year.
"All offseason and all through camp our two-minute defense was something we practiced every day," Galippo said. "We were highly criticized last year, and for us to have that same opportunity in our first game it was like, 'Hey, here we go, this is our challenge, let's go out there and show them that we're a different defense this year.' I think we did a great job of rising to the challenge."
The result of that last drive was an interception by defensive back Torin Harris, giving the ball back to the Trojans, who ran out the clock. Galippo finished with six tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
"The game was so tight to the end and we needed him out there; he was a real warrior," Barry said. "Chris is such an emotional leader for our defense. It's one of his best attributes and people don't always know that about him.
"He also did a great job of running the show and being the quarterback of the defense. It's very calming for a coach because you never feel like the other 10 players are out of control when he's on the field. I'm real proud of him."
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.