COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State ripped out the artificial turf in Ohio Stadium last spring, replacing it with grass at a cost of $1 million.
On Saturday, USC and the elements tore up the new field.
The Trojans, who ranked ninth in the Pacific 10 Conference in rushing offense going into the game, ran for a season-high 331 yards in a 35-26 victory over Ohio State before that was stopped with 2:36 left because of the weather conditions, including torrential rains, thunder and lightning.
Against an Ohio State defense that allowed only 63 yards a game on the ground in victories over Texas Tech and Boston College, USC more than doubled its rushing output from its first three games.
Tailback Ricky Ervins led the way, rushing for a career-high 199 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game in the third quarter with a mild sprain in his left ankle, sustained on the second play of the second half.
"There were some large holes," said Ervins, who ran for more than 100 yards nine times in 12 games last season, but in three games this season had run for only 181, averaging 3.0 yards a carry. "The offensive line should be talking to you because they played tremendously."
The game was stopped by mutual consent of the coaches after the Trojans recovered an onside kick by the Buckeyes.
Ohio State had pulled to within the final margin with 2:38 left, when quarterback Greg Frey passed to flanker Jeff Graham for a two-point conversion after tailback Raymont Harris' one-yard touchdown run.
If Ohio State had recovered the kick, both coaches said afterward, the game would have continued.
And USC, in all probability, would have kept running.
The Trojans never trailed. They took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter when Willie McGinest blocked a punt and Zuri Hector picked up the ball and carried it nine yards into the end zone.
On a day when quarterback Todd Marinovich again posted pedestrian numbers, completing 11 of 23 passes for 119 yards and throwing two interceptions, the Trojans enjoyed their most productive running game since last September, when they rushed for 491 yards in a 66-10 rout of Utah State.
After enduring "perhaps the hardest week of work I've ever seen a team go through," as Coach Larry Smith described it, USC returned to basics after last week's "disaster," a 31-0 loss to Washington.
Said Ohio State Coach John Cooper: "They weren't supposed to have a running attack, (but) they just hammered and hammered."
After averaging a conference-worst 2.3 yards a carry in its first three games, USC battered Ohio State for 7.3 yards a try.
Scott Lockwood, making his first start at fullback, ran for 75 yards in five carries, including a 66-yard third-quarter touchdown run, and Mazio Royster, in relief of Ervins, ran for 70 yards in seven carries, including a 50-yard burst.
"I never thought it would be a fun game just running it," Marinovich said, "but I had fun watching our (offensive linemen) come off the ball and hit people. I know our backs were thankful for it."
Was Ohio State caught unaware?
"We were all keyed up to rush the quarterback 30 or 40 times," nose guard Greg Smith said, "but it just didn't happen."
It was evident from the start that USC could run successfully. Ervins carried 28 yards on the Trojans' second play.
Still, USC's first possession ended after only three plays, when a pass by Marinovich was intercepted at the goal line, and its second went three plays and out as Marinovich was sacked on two consecutive plays.
The Trojans still scored first, though, after McGinest crashed through the Ohio State line and blocked a punt by Jeff Bohlman.
"An excellent effort on the part of McGinest," Smith said. "He's very quick and a great athlete. He just made the play."
In its third possession, USC started to move, driving 80 yards to a touchdown to increase its lead to 14-0 on a 15-yard run by Ervins, who carried four times in the drive for 55 yards.
The Buckeyes closed to within 14-10 midway through the second quarter on a 46-yard field goal by freshman kicker Tim Williams and a 17-yard touchdown pass from Frey to split end Bobby Olive.
At that point, USC again reasserted itself, gaining 58 yards on the ground during a 73-yard drive that lasted almost seven minutes and ended with Ervins scoring on a one-yard run to make it 21-10 with 1:37 left in the half.
By halftime, Ervins had already run for 162 yards.
"I think Ricky took it upon himself (that) this was a personal challenge to him," Smith said. "He didn't feel like he was contributing that much and he's a determined little guy, so I'm not surprised by what he did.
"He'd be the first to tell you, though, that the day was made possible by guys like (Mark) Tucker and (Pat) Harlow and some other offensive linemen who really started to put some people on their backs."
Rain began at the start of the second half, but it didn't deter the Trojans, who continued to roll.
Lockwood's 66-yard run increased USC's lead to 28-10.