Ohio State's Keith Byars, the leading rusher in college football this season, broke away for a 50-yard run on his first carry Tuesday in the 71st Rose Bowl game. It was no indication of things to come.
A swarming USC defense shut down Byars for the rest of the game as the Trojans upheld the Pacific 10's recent supremacy over the Big Ten by winning, 20-17, before a crowd of 102,594 and a national television audience.
Byars, a 6-foot 2-inch, 236-pound tailback, gained 109 yards in 23 carries, which means that after his first-quarter sprint, he gained only 59 yards the rest of the day. As a runner-up to Boston College's Doug Flutie for the Heisman Trophy, Byars averaged 150.5 yards a game during the regular season.
"We wanted to take away the 40-yard-plus runs from him, be tough near the goal line and we did it for 60 minutes," USC Coach Ted Tollner said. "We had a ton of hats on him."
So they did in a physical, no-frills game on a lovely Southern Calfornia afternoon.
With Byars frustrated by Jack Del Rio, Duane Bickett, Neil Hope and the other Trojan defenders, Ohio State was forced to pass.
Quarterback Mike Tomczak was effective at times, completing 24 of 37 passes for 290 yards, but he also threw 3 interceptions.
He had brought the Buckeyes back from a 20-9 deficit at the end of the third quarter to 20-17 on his two-point conversion run after having thrown an 18-yard touchdown pass to split end Cris Carter.
Frustrated most of the day and shackled with poor field position, primarily because of the punting of USC's Troy Richardson, Ohio State still had a chance to win in the closing minutes. But Brent Moore, a reserve defensive tackle at the outset of the season, made the defensive play of the game.
Tomczak marched the Buckeyes from their 35-yard line to third and five at the USC 38 with 1 minute 13 seconds left. He drifted back to pass, but the 6-5, 235-pound Moore stripped the ball from him.
Tomczak fell on the ball for a nine-yard loss and, on fourth down, threw a pass behind running back John Wooldridge. The game belonged to USC.
Moore became a starter when Matt Koart went down with a knee injury in the fourth game of the season.
"I just got around the corner fast and beat No. 73 (offensive tackle Mark Krerowicz)," Moore said.
It was fitting that the game should end on a big defensive play. The Trojans, who finished 9-3, matching the Buckeyes' record, got to the Rose Bowl on their defense.
The Pac-10 has now won 14 of the last 16 games and 10 of 11 in a series the Big Ten once dominated.
It was a game for tie breakers. USC now leads its Rose Bowl series with Ohio State, 4-3, and the Pac-10 moved ahead of the Big 10, 20-19, for the first time since the series began in 1947.
It was a also a record-breaking afternoon and a day of redemption for Tollner's Trojans.
Carter set a Rose Bowl record for most yards receiving, 172. That's a hallowed record, taking the great Don Hutson out of the book. Hutson set the previous record (164 yards) while leading Alabama over Stanford in 1935.
Ohio State kicker Rich Spangler broke one Rose Bowl record and tied another. His 52-yard field goal was the longest, beating by a yard one kicked earlier in the game by USC's Steve Jordan. Stanford's Steve Horowitz was the previous record holder at 48 yards set in 1971. Altogether, Spangler kicked three field goals, tying Vlade Janakievski of Ohio State for most in a game. Janakievski kicked his three in 1980.
Spangler had to be sharp because he was kicking against Jordan, one of the best clutch kickers in the country.
Jordan later connected on a second 51-yard effort, giving him six field goals of 50 yards or farther this season.
USC won seven-straight conference games, among them a title clinching game against Washington, but lost some stature by losing season ending regular-season games to traditional rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.
So, in a sense, the Trojans felt they had to regain some respect.
USC quarterback Tim Green, summed up his team's attitude when he said: "I thought we could win, but I didn't want it to be public through the press. We wanted to have the last laugh today."
Green, who was chided for predicting that USC would beat UCLA, was an efficient, poised quarterback Tuesday.
He completed 13-of-24 passes for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns--a three-yard toss to tight end Joe Cormier and a 19-yard pass to flanker Timmie Ware that provided USC with a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. Green and Del Rio shared most-valuable-player honors.
Ware was conspicuously open in the corner of the end zone in what was apparently a breakdown in Ohio State coverage.
"Give Green credit," Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce said. "He looked off our defensive backs and them came back and threw a flag pattern. It fooled us completely."
Tollner said that USC had to play an almost mistake-free game, stressing that his team had to stop Byars and not turn the ball over in its own territory.