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Trojan Focus Is Unrivaled

USC finally can look ahead to UCLA after Palmer, Fargas and defense spark 34-13 victory over Arizona State.

November 17, 2002|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

So clear was the sky Saturday afternoon, fans in the upper rows of the Coliseum got a spectacular panoramic view that engulfed the downtown skyline and extended north to the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Rose Bowl sits near the base of that range, but USC players spent the last month refusing to look toward playing UCLA there until they dispatched all other challengers.

After defeating Arizona State, 34-13, before a homecoming crowd of 73,923, the eighth-ranked Trojans can finally turn their focus to the Bruins.

"We're done with them now," defensive tackle Bernard Riley said of Arizona State. "It's rivalry time."

USC extended its winning streak to five games and its home winning streak to eight with a performance not as dominating as its previous three. However, it was good enough to improve the Trojans to 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference. It also kept USC in contention for a possible berth in the Rose Bowl or another bowl championship series game.

"We made it through and this has been a great challenge for us for three weeks," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "There are no issues about [looking ahead] now."

USC, which scored more than 40 points in consecutive victories over Washington, Oregon and Stanford, needed fourth-quarter touchdowns from running back Justin Fargas and quarterback Carson Palmer to put away a Sun Devil team that had given up a combined 99 points in its previous two games.

Arizona State (7-5, 4-3) pulled to within 20-13 on Mike Barth's 27-yard field goal on the last play of the third quarter before USC shut down the Sun Devils.

"Normally, we're just bombing people and throwing deep, long balls," said Palmer, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. "But Justin was running the ball so well and the offensive line was blocking so great, we just stayed with that."

Fargas, the senior transfer from Michigan, appears to be growing stronger as the season goes on. He carried 26 times for 125 yards and got many of them after sustaining an initial hit. The Trojans finished with a season-high 201 yards rushing and held the ball for 35 minutes 15 seconds.

"The more you carry the ball the more confident you get," Fargas said. "We had a couple down times when we got a little sloppy, but the offense bands together and we know we are going to get back on track."

The offense got a big lift from the defense, which neutralized Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter, forced three turnovers and stopped the Sun Devils on a critical fourth-down play in the fourth quarter.

Walter, who passed for 477 yards in the previous game against California, completed 24 of 49 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown. But his longest completion covered 27 yards and Trojan safety DeShaun Hill and linebacker Melvin Simmons intercepted passes.

"We knew they'd change coverages a little, and they used blitz, zone and man," Arizona State Coach Dirk Koetter said. "[Walter] got frustrated. He made some throws he shouldn't have."

USC came into the game having outscored opponents, 74-17, in the third quarter, but Arizona State shut out the Trojans in the period.

USC then showed the form that helped it outscore opponents, 94-63, in fourth quarters.

Starting at their 29, the Trojans drove to a touchdown in four plays on the first possession. Fargas turned a short pass from Palmer into a 33-yard gain and Palmer followed with a 31-yard pass to flanker Keary Colbert. Fargas carried for four yards and then gave the Trojans a 27-13 lead on a three-yard scoring run with 12:58 left.

Josh Golden returned the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to give Arizona State a first down at its 42-yard line. The Sun Devils moved to the Trojan 36 on a 22-yard pass from Walter to Mike Pinkard before USC clamped down.

Junior running back Mike Williams gained a yard on first down. Walter was sacked for a seven-yard loss by Simmons on second down, and Walter completed a 15-yard pass to Shaun McDonald to make it fourth and one at the Trojan 27.

Walter handed off to Williams, who ran to his right before cornerback Marcell Allmond and linebacker Mike Pollard combined for a hit that stopped Williams for no gain with 10:15 remaining.

Simmons ended another Sun Devil threat when he intercepted a pass at the Arizona State 23 with 7:21 left.

"It was just my time to step up," Simmons said. "Everyone on this defense makes plays. We had to stop them from coming back and give our offense another chance."

USC needed five plays to put the game out of reach.

Sultan McCullough, who broke free for a 59-yard gain that set up a touchdown in the second quarter, carried for six yards. Fargas then carried three times to advance the ball to the two, where Palmer sneaked in for a 34-13 lead with 4:39 left.

Freshman wide receiver Mike Williams caught only one pass, but it resulted in an 18-yard touchdown in the first quarter, the seventh consecutive game Williams has scored a touchdown.

Alex Holmes caught a two-yard touchdown pass and Ryan Killeen kicked field goals of 20 and 41 yards as the Trojans took a 20-10 halftime lead.

Carroll said he was excited to finally start preparing for UCLA. Last season, the Trojans shut out the Bruins, 27-0, for their third consecutive victory over their rivals.

"If we stay in line and keep walking that walk that we've been walking all year, we should be all right," Carroll said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Improving Ground

Carson Palmer's passing statistics the last six games -- starting with the 30-27 overtime loss to Washington State on Oct. 5 -- and the six prior to that, including the loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl

*--* SIX GAMES PRIOR TO WASH LAST SIX GAMES, STARTING WITH ST. GAME WASH. ST GAME 115 COMP 151 198 ATT 231 580 PCT 654 1,293 YARDS 1,997 6 TD 19 4 INT 5 118.9 RATING 160.8 4-2 USC W-L 5-1

*--*

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