There he was, stretched out on the Rose Bowl grass, clutching his ribs in agony.
No doubt thousands of Trojan partisans shrugged upon seeing what they perceived as the inevitable. Surely, this was the one hit on Brad Otton everyone feared was coming.
The 6-6, 225-pound Otton, chased if not battered all year by defenders, had finally paid the price for playing behind his young, inexperienced offensive line.
When he went down hard on the fourth quarter's second play Saturday, squashed by UCLA defensive end Weldon Forde, it looked like season's end for the Trojan quarterback.
Even Coach John Robinson didn't seem optimistic, in the gloom following USC's 48-41 overtime loss to UCLA.
"He might have broken ribs," Robinson said.
But Sunday afternoon, in the quiet despair of Heritage Hall, a fragment of good news surfaced.
No broken ribs.
There is a chance, then, that Otton can at least finish his final season with his teammates, against Notre Dame Saturday at the Coliseum.
But just a chance. The ribs were still painful, he said, as he received treatment Sunday.
"They're still sore, but maybe a bit better today," a school spokesman quoted Otton as saying.
"I really want to play against Notre Dame--we'll just have to see how it goes this week."
After leaving the game Saturday, Otton threw one pass on the USC sideline, then threw in the towel. With his team ahead, 38-21, he went to the locker room. When he returned, in street clothes, the first overtime period was ending and the game was tied, 41-41.
And so for the Trojans (5-6), one of the two most disliked numbers changes to six--consecutive losses to UCLA. The other remains at 13--the number of years it has been since a victory over Notre Dame.
And here come the 8-2 Irish, with their retiring coach, Lou Holtz, unbeaten (9-0-1) against USC.
Nobody at USC other than Otton was talking Sunday, including the coaches. Robinson gave his players the day off, waiving the usual Sunday afternoon meetings and walk-around practice.
When USC resumes practice today, Otton's backup, fellow senior Matt Koffler, will probably get most of the snaps.
Koffler finished against UCLA with a four-for-11, 128-yard passing performance, which included a 78-yard touchdown pass play to R. Jay Soward. . .and the fourth-down interception that ended the game.
Robinson, however, may elect to place redshirt freshman Quincy Woods into the line of fire, if only for part of the Notre Dame game. Woods, the only Trojan quarterback who runs well, was moved up to No. 3 on the depth chart several weeks ago, but hasn't played since Sept. 7 against Illinois.
John Fox, another redshirt freshman, is available. Freshman Mike Van Raaphorst is being redshirted.