COLUMBUS, Ohio -- We've seen USC win no shortage of big games during
Back in 2005, the setting was Notre Dame Stadium. This time it was Ohio Stadium.
Against the Irish that October night, the top-ranked Trojans needed a 61-yard pass on fourth and 9 to keep a game-winning drive alive and a do-or-die sneak to win it. Saturday night against No. 8 Ohio State, third-ranked USC found itself facing a second-and-19 from its own 5-yard line, needing to make up five points and 95 yards in the last six minutes of a game-long defensive stalemate.
The difference: Back then the Trojans had a Heisman-winning quarterback (
After being held without a touchdown for nearly 55 minutes, after starting their eventual game-winning drive with a sack and a false-start penalty, Barkley (15-of-31 for 195 yards and an interception) completed consecutive 20-plus yard passes, McKnight powered his way to 32 yards on five carries (he finished with 60 yards on 16 carries) and
"Over the years, it seems like either we've blown teams our or lost really close-fought games," said linebacker
For about 53 minutes Saturday night, it felt like the fairly tale was playing out on the other sideline.
After all those big-game meltdowns these past few years, the Buckeyes were standing toe-to-toe with the same team that pounded them 35-3 a year earlier. If anything, the game was playing out exactly the way one would expect
When Trojans center
But the Buckeyes never could put the Trojans away, blowing countless opportunities. Quarterback
All the while, the Trojans ... well, they danced. During breaks in the action, Ohio State's band repeatedly played a catchy riff from the White Stripes' song "Seven Nation Army." The Buckeyes' student section jumped along. On their sideline, USC's players kept jumping right along with them.
Their coach, as befitting his personality, encouraged it.
"I don't know how to convey this, but, we didn't think we were going to lose at any time," said Carroll. "We kept the juice going on the sideline. We needed every single guy jumping like that the entire game to get this done."
Ultimately, USC needed more than some rhythmic jumping to pull off the victory. With 7:05 left, down 15-10, their true freshman -- having compiled just 140 passing yards -- trotted on to the field with the task of engineering a do-or-die 86-yard touchdown drive.
Carroll, his coaches and his players had talked repeatedly about Barkley's uncanny confidence and composure belying his age. Now, he would have to show it. When he walked into the huddle, with the game and, possibly, the Trojans' national-title hopes on the line, "He smiled," marveled receiver
"Our fans had that little section in the end zone. It was basically the 11 of us out there on our own," a smiling Barkley said afterward. "It was fun."
The drive didn't start out so fun for the rookie. On first down, he was sacked by Ohio State's
That's when assistant head coach
Despite having gone lifeless for so much of the game, at that point it seemed almost inevitable USC would drive the remaining 37 yards -- and that McKnight would help them do it.
"When we punched it in," said Barkley, "it was good to hear that silence [in the stadium.]"
Most of those Buckeyes fans continued that stunned silence all the way home, a cruelly familiar feeling lately whenever their team faces a highly ranked foe. (Saturday's game marked their sixth straight loss to top-five foes.) Unlike on several previous occasions, however, Ohio State was not outclassed. Its defense played well enough to win.
Unfortunately, the Buckeyes came up one drive short.
"I know this team is just physically drained," said OSU defensive back
As ugly as they looked at times, the Trojans showed a shade of toughness we haven't often seen of them in recent years. This wasn't a case of
With a similar-type "trap" game next week at Washington, perhaps such a rare, tough-earned victory will prevent complacency from befalling them.
"We've already addressed it," said Carroll. "This game can't carry over to next week."
Though he presumably wouldn't mind Barkley and McKnight picking up where they left off.