At the time, his emotions seemed as tightly wrapped as his sprained left wrist. No way USC quarterback Todd Marinovich would show even a trace of vulnerability in such a stressful situation, even if it was perhaps the biggest test of his career.
No, after spraining his wrist early in the second quarter and watching replacement Shane Foley immediately lead the Trojans to their first touchdown against Ohio State Saturday, Marinovich strode confidently onto the field a few minutes later for the next possession. Who knows, it could have been his last as the starter if the redshirt freshman failed to impress. To that point, it had not been a good day for Marinovich. Before Buckeye linebacker Tom Lease's hit temporarily knocked him out with a sprain to his left (throwing) wrist, Marinovich had completed only two of six passes for 11 yards and thrown an interception. The Coliseum crowd of 69,876 cheered Foley, before and after his three-yard touchdown pass to Scott Galbraith, and was conspicuously quiet upon Marinovich's return.
But on his third play back, from the Trojans' 13, Marinovich unleashed a pass that wide receiver John Jackson caught near midfield. Jackson then sprinted for an 87-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
Not only was it the longest pass play in USC history, but it propelled the Trojans to an eventual 42-3 victory. Not only that, but it also may have established Marinovich as the Trojans' primary offensive threat, augmented by tailback Ricky Ervins' running.
By the time Foley replaced Marinovich a second time late in the fourth quarter, it was Ohio State that was hurting. Marinovich exploited the Buckeyes' young defense, completing 14 of 22 passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns. In addition to Jackson's long-distance connection, Marinovich threw an 11-yard scoring pass to tight end Galbraith and touchdown passes of 19 and 17 yards to flanker Gary Wellman.
Marinovich said he never doubted he was capable of such a performance and never feared that Foley might take his spot.
"I didn't think about it that way," Marinovich said. "I just wanted to get back in the game. I wanted to get it taped up and get back in because I knew we were capable of making big plays. The wrist feels pretty good, but I think it'll hurt in the morning."
An injury to his throwing wrist was the last thing Marinovich needed in his second nationally televised game since replacing injured Pat O'Hara a week before the season opener against Illinois. In last week's lopsided victory over Utah State, Marinovich threw for 92 yards and two touchdowns. It was not until this week, however, that Marinovich faced his second real challenge, against another Big Ten team on national television.
The results this time were much different. Whereas Marinovich seemed hesitant to throw long and take chances, he liberated his left arm in the second and third quarters against the Buckeyes (1-1).
Afterward, Marinovich allowed himself a few moments of satisfaction before considering next week's Pacific 10 Conference opener at Washington State.
"It was good to have a good game passing the ball," Marinovich said. "Now, the pressure is off. I thought I made some right decisions (against Illinois), that I threw the ball well that game. It was just a matter of doing it."
He did it against the Buckeyes. Not without help, of course. Ervins' running, especially taking pitches on the option, helped loosen Ohio State's defense for the pass.
"We wanted to throw a lot and dominate the passing game," Marinovich said. "The run opened things up and made that easy. It's easy to feel relaxed and confident when your offensive line gives you so much time.
"A couple of times, I just had to decide who to throw the ball to, because we had a couple of guys open. That's a good problem to have."
USC Coach Larry Smith stopped short of saying Marinovich's apprenticeship is over. But he liked what he saw Saturday.
"I think Todd was executing," Smith siad. "He wasn't just dunking and dinking. He was going for the jugular. He's come a long way since a month ago."
That was obvious from his touchdown passes.
The 87-yarder to Jackson was not a perfect pass--Jackson had to put it in neutral near midfield and await the ball's arrival--but Marinovich made the big play.
If he appeared calm before making the pass, Marinovich was ecstatic afterward. After releasing the ball, Marinovich found himself face down on the turf. By the time he reached his feet, Jackson had scored. That was all Marinovich needed to see. Arms outstretched, he jumped in celebration.
"That (pass) got me going," Marinovich said. "When you make big plays, it relaxes you."
Marinovich's most impressive sequence came midway through the third quarter, when he completed a third-down pass to Jackson for 21 yards. Two plays later, he hit Wellman on the right sideline for 38 yards and capped it with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Wellman.
Jackson, the senior split end who moved into third place on the Trojans' all-time reception list on Saturday, said Marinovich simply is starting to show the ability that his teammates have known all along he has.
"He's not a different quarterback (from three weeks ago), it's just that his confidence level is rising," Jackson said. "He's becoming a complete quarterback. I was happy with his performance in the first game. But I was real happy today."