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Utah State was unable to pick up a first down, and USC took possession at the Aggies' 30 after Utah State was penalized for interfering with a fair catch attempt. The Aggies held again, but they couldn't get anything going.

"We're not playing as efficient as we could," Kessler said. "I missed some throws, there were some protection breakdowns and we had a few drops. But we're 3 1 and that's all that matters. We'll go back and watch film and learn from this. We just missed on a few big plays and I wish we had them back.

LOS ANGELES (AP) Unlike last season, it's all about defense at Southern California this year.

"We strung them (the Trojans) out, we packed them in, we shifted out, we motioned, we gave them every look that we could give them to try get (Keeton) uncorked a little bit," first year Utah State coach Matt Wells said. "But they made plays."

Shredded for 62 points by Oregon, 39 by Arizona and 38 by UCLA in 2012, the Trojans have allowed only 44 points in their first four games this season under first year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

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Trojans the ball at the Utah State 24 yard line.

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By far their most impressive performance came Saturday when USC stifled explosive Utah State in winning a hard hitting 17 14 decision. The Trojans (3 1) needed that kind of effort since their offense was held in check by the Aggies.

"Their defensive line was relentless and they put a lot of pressure on me. It was old time smash mouth football."

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The Aggies reached their 41 yard line before Keeton tried to scramble but came up 3 yards short of converting a fourth and 9 play with 3:33 left.

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TOP 25: How they fared

yard punt gave the Saucony Grid 8000 Sand

"The defense played lights out just as they have been doing for the last four games," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said. "Clancy had a great plan going in and we played physical defense. We used great schemes and we were able to control a great quarterback and rusher."

Utah State (2 2) averaged 49.3 points, 29 first downs and 550.3 yards and converted 30 of 46 third down opportunities in its first three games. USC held the Aggies to just 285 yards, 13 first downs and 5 of 17 third down conversions.

Cody Kessler completed 13 Reebok Black of 27 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown and Tre Madden gained 93 yards on 24 carries for the Trojans, who were held to just 282 total yards. Kessler's 1 yard sneak on a fourth and inches play from the Utah State 25 yard line with two minutes remaining enabled USC to run out the clock.

Kiffin referred to Utah State's Chuckie Keeton, who completed 21 of 39 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns while being sacked four times twice by Morgan Breslin and once each by George Uko and Devon Kennard. Keeton threw for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for a team leading 187 yards in his team's first three games this season. He wound up with a net of minus 10 yards on the ground against the Trojans.

Utah Stat quarterback Chuckie Keeton at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.(Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

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´╗┐Strong defense leads USC Trojans past Utah State

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Heidari, who missed a 46 yard field goal in the third quarter, kicked his game winner six plays after Jaron Bentrude's 12 Saucony Jazz Denim

BOX SCORE: USC 17, Utah State 14

Story HighlightsUSC beat Utah State, 17 14Andre Heidari 25 yard field goal with 13:35 remaining put the Trojans ahead for goodUSC held Utah State Chuckie Keeton to 179 passing yards

The victory was USC's second straight after a disappointing 10 7 loss to Pac 12 doormat Washington State. Utah State has lost just five of its last 23 games, with the five losses coming by a total of 13 points.

Andre Heidari's 25 yard field goal with 13:35 remaining provided the Trojans with the winning points.

Madden's 1 yard run capped a 45 yard drive on the USC's second possession, giving the Trojans a 7 0 lead. Utah State's Nick Diaz hit the right upright on a 37 yard field goal attempt later in the first quarter, but the Aggies tied it early in the second period on Keeton's 8 yard TD pass to Brandon Swindall three plays after a 55 yard run by Joey DeMartino.

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USC defensive end Leonard Williams and linebacker Hayes Pullard tackle Reebok Womens Lifters

"We expected a hard fought game that would go down to the fourth quarter, and that's what it was," Wells said "Our guys didn't flinch. You look at the stat sheet and it's almost down to the yard."

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