LOS ANGELES — When Lane Kiffin looked around the Southern California locker room after his first head coaching victory at the Coliseum, he saw nothing he liked — except the result.
Matt Barkley threw first-half touchdown passes to Jordan Cameron and Brandon Carswell, and No. 16 USC hung on for a 17-14 victory over Virginia on Saturday night.
Barkley passed for 202 yards for the Trojans (2-0), who struggled offensively for long stretches in their first game at the Coliseum since the program was hit with serious NCAA sanctions. USC also committed 13 penalties for 140 yards, giving them 24 penalties in Kiffin's first two games.
The Trojans finished it off by recovering an onside kick after Virginia's Kris Burd caught a touchdown pass with 4 seconds left. But not even the subdued Coliseum crowd got much joy from what could have been a cathartic evening for a program that has taken a tremendous public beating.
"[That's] probably the most miserable 2-0 locker room I've ever been in," Kiffin said. "Which is good. Our players understand we have to play much better. … but we're extremely disappointed with our performance."
Kiffin said it was "kind of a flip-flop from our last game," in which USC scored 49 points against Hawaii but gave up 588 yards on defense. A week later, USC didn't move the ball effectively against Virginia except for the final few minutes of the first half, but won by mostly smothering the Cavaliers (1-1) on defense.
"Our defense was more itself," linebacker Devon Kennard said. "We got to really go out there and show what we're about. We bounced back. We held strong."
Keith Payne ran for Virginia's first score in the Cavaliers' first game in California. The late-starting, slow-paced game ended at nearly 2 a.m. Charlottesville time. Virginia missed two field goals and committed nine penalties of its own for 101 yards.
Verica went 17 for 36 and threw a first-quarter interception in the USC end zone, but Virginia's offense blamed itself for missing an opportunity to score a major upset under first-year coach Mike London.
"I knew it was a stupid play," Verica said. "But we sent a message tonight that this is a new team. This is definitely not who we used to be. We can play with anybody left on our schedule. This one hurts a lot, but it proves we're going to be a good team."
USC has won 13 straight home openers and 18 consecutive nonconference games, but the current Trojans don't look much like the USC teams that won seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships — at least not yet. Kiffin is still seeking discipline and consistency at the school where he served as an assistant for much of that successful run.
The Trojans are moving on from the Pete Carroll era in several other ways: The oversize replica of Reggie Bush's No. 5 jersey is no longer among USC's collection of Heisman Trophy winners on the steps of the peristyle, the columned porch holding the Olympic cauldron on the historic stadium's east end.
Both teams made costly mistakes in the first half. After Verica's end-zone pass was intercepted by T.J. McDonald, USC's Ronald Johnson caught a 47-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter — but it was erased by a holding penalty.
"I feel terrible about it," right guard Khaled Holmes said. "We had a bunch of those, but it's something we can get better at."
Star Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling warmed up and was in uniform, but sat out his second straight game with a hamstring injury. After 26 scoreless minutes, the Trojans finally went after Dowling's replacements, with freshman Robert Woods catching two passes before Cameron's 4-yard scoring grab in the back of the end zone 3:43 before halftime.
"We've just got to do better playing those types of things, but it's part of the game," London said. "You can't look back and say those things could have been better."
Virginia immediately answered with a 69-yard scoring drive capped by Payne's dive into the end zone 2 1/2 minutes later. But USC kept throwing, and Barkley found Carswell among three defenders for another score with 1 second left before halftime. Carswell nearly transferred from USC after the NCAA sanctions but Kiffin begged him to stay.
After a scoreless third quarter, USC went up by 10 points on Joe Houston's 34-yard field goal with 5:52 left. Virginia finally got moving with the help of more USC penalties, but couldn't score until Burd's late TD catch.
"This is something we can build on," said Virginia defensive tackle Matt Conrath, who played in the Cavaliers' 52-7 home loss to USC two years ago. "Both teams, USC and us, are very different from two years ago. We came in here to show people that we can play with the better teams in the country."