Scott Lockwood didn't know it at the time, but his life changed dramatically when Steven Webster went out with a knee injury on the last play of the first quarter of the UCLA game on Nov. 21.
As it turned out, Webster was lost for the rest of the season. He underwent extensive surgery after the game to repair ligament damage in his left knee and will be a spectator when USC plays Michigan State in the Rose Bowl game New Year's Day.
So Lockwood, a freshman tailback who has performed competently in cameo appearances as Webster's replacement, has been suddenly thrust into a position of prominence.
It's one thing to play in relief of an injured teammate. It would seem that there is even more pressure on Lockwood, knowing that he's the man, whose future is now.
However, the 19-year-old running back from Boulder, Colo., is not agonizing over his elevated status. In fact, he seems to be enjoying it.
"I'm trying to downplay it (the game), relax and get ready for it," Lockwood said. "When the time comes, I'll be ready and I'll be nervous. But it's more excitement than being nervous."
Lockwood recalls that he was nervous when he went into the UCLA game because of the size of the crowd (92,000) and knowing so much was on the line.
"But all the rest of the players, like (quarterback) Rodney Peete, helped me relax a little bit." he said. "They gave me encouragement in the huddle, saying, 'Come on Scotty, let's get it done.' After that I felt good. I wanted to get the ball and run and keep going. It was fun."
Lockwood had only modest statistics in the 17-13 win over UCLA, and was relieved for a while by Ricky Ervins after suffering a gash on his forehead.
But he didn't commit any glaring errors. Coach Larry Smith and other members of the staff say that Lockwood is remarkably mature for a freshman.
There is precedent for a freshman to become an instant celebrity in the Rose Bowl game.
USC's Charles White replaced injured Ricky Bell early in the first quarter of the 1977 game. He didn't miss a beat, gaining 114 yards in 32 carries, including a 7-yard touchdown that clinched a 14-6 victory over Michigan with three minutes left.
In 1982, Washington's Jacques Robinson became the first freshman ever to be selected as player of the game. That was based on 142 yards gained rushing and 2 touchdowns in a 28-0 win over Iowa.
Then, in 1986 UCLA's Eric Ball, replacing an injured Gaston Green, rushed for 227 yards and a Rose Bowl record-tying four touchdowns as the Bruins routed Iowa, 45-28. He was, of course, named player of the game.
Lockwood, who stands 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 195 pounds, has been described as a deceptively fast runner.
"I would call him a smooth runner," Smith said, "and he's strong. Just watch him in the weight room. As the season has gone on, he has had a better feel for our running game."
Lockwood has the best average per carry, 5.3 yards in 136 attempts, among USC's running backs. He has also scored five touchdowns.
The freshman tailback has been told that he had been called slow by ABC-TV sportscaster Keith Jackson on two occasions, an opening 27-13 loss to Michigan State and the recent UCLA game.
Lockwood, who bears a slight resemblance to actor James Caan, seemed more amused than annoyed by such a critique, and is hopeful that Jackson will be forced to change his opinion Friday.
He had more than ample speed at Fairview High School in Boulder where he was the 1986 junior Olympics indoor champion for 60 yards at 6.2 seconds. He has also been credited with a time of 10.54 for 100 meters and 4.4 in the football 40-yard dash.
He was durable as a tailback in his team's I formation. As a senior, he gained 2,210 yards, a 7.4 average per carry, and scored 22 touchdowns.
"We ran basically the same plays in high school that we run at USC," Lockwood said, "but the passing game is totally new because we didn't throw the ball in high school."
"Maybe we threw 20 times the whole year. A couple of games, we didn't put the ball up at all. And I threw most of the passes as a halfback. The quarterback had 9 interceptions in his first 11 passes. After that, we stopped passing."
With such limitations, Lockwood said he didn't have much experience as a receiver, but he said he has sure hands developed as a basketball player and in other sports.
He caught 11 passes for 83 yards this season.
Lockwood said he took recruiting trips to Notre Dame, Georgia, Arizona State, Colorado and USC.
"But I declined some trips from other schools," he said. "UCLA kept bugging me after I had already committed to USC. They asked me to take a trip there and wanted me to pay for it.
"Colorado also kept bugging me a lot, persisting that I should have some type of loyalty to the state. They've got a lot of California kids on the team, so are they loyal to California?"
Lockwood said he narrowed his choices to USC and Notre Dame and, when he learned that Smith was the new coach, there was no question where he going.