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A Real Scheme Come True

Carroll's defensive adjustments help Trojans hold Cardinal to 36 yards and no points in second half, and they erase 28-17 deficit to win Pac-10 opener.

September 26, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

PALO ALTO — As offensive lineman John Drake walked slowly toward USC's large rooting section on Saturday at Stanford Stadium, he looked up, smiled and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

The top-ranked Trojans had overcome an 11-point halftime deficit to defeat Stanford, 31-28, before a crowd of 55,750 in the Pacific 10 Conference opener for both teams.

"That's what you get when you're the No. 1 team in the nation," an exhausted Drake said. "Everyone is going to bring their best shot.

"We took a couple shots on the chin, but it's a 12-round bout. Lucky for us, we got the decision."

The loquacious Drake had been one of the unexpected keynote speakers during a raucous halftime gathering that Trojan players and coaches credited for turning a potential upset into the Trojans' 13th consecutive victory.

Much as it had in its season-opening victory over Virginia Tech, USC completely shut down Stanford in the second half and won its eighth consecutive road game.

"My guys refused to lose, and I'm pretty excited to see that," said USC Coach Pete Carroll, whose halftime adjustments to the defense played a big role in the comeback. "It's another step that we took as a team to get stronger. In some regards, this is really good for us."

Sophomore tailback Reggie Bush said the come-from-behind victory over Virginia Tech prepped the Trojans for their comeback Saturday. It was the largest comeback by USC under Carroll since 2002, when the Trojans overcame a 21-3 deficit to beat Cal at the Coliseum.

"We knew what it felt like to come out in the second half a different team and pull out the big win," said Bush, who rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries and set up the game-winning touchdown with a spectacular 33-yard punt return.

USC, 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-10, rolled into the game after amassing more than 1,000 yards and giving up only 10 points in its previous two games, against Colorado State and Brigham Young.

But the first half against Stanford stirred memories of last season's trip to the Bay Area when USC lost its conference opener in triple-overtime against Cal.

Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards was nearly unstoppable in the first half, completing 20 of 26 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

USC trailed, 28-17, after the Cardinal scored twice in the final three minutes of the second quarter. Reserve quarterback Kyle Matter ran for an 11-yard touchdown on a fake field-goal attempt, and running back J.R. Lemon broke off an 82-yard touchdown run on the final play of the half to give the Cardinal an 11-point advantage.

"When they scored that last touchdown it was kind of a dagger," USC quarterback Matt Leinart said.

But the touchdown did not pierce the Trojans' spirit. Instead it fired them up.

"It was crazy, it was intense," Leinart said of the scene in the locker room at the break.

Drake and usually reserved junior linebacker Lofa Tatupu took center stage.

"I just asked for 30 minutes of heart," Tatupu said. "That's what we got."

Stanford (2-1), which amassed 291 yards in the first half, scored no points and managed only 36 yards in the second half.

Meanwhile, Leinart directed a Trojan offense that came alive with 4:40 left in the third quarter when the junior left-hander connected with receiver Steve Smith on a 51-yard pass play. Three plays later, Leinart scored on a one-yard sneak to make the score 28-24.

Ryan Killeen, who made a 23-yard field goal in the first quarter to give USC an early lead, missed a 23-yard attempt with 11:10 left in the game that would have trimmed the margin to a point.

The Trojans, however, did not let up.

After the defense forced Stanford to go three and out, Bush produced his dazzling punt return that gave USC possession at the Stanford 41.

Leinart connected with receiver Chris McFoy for 15 yards on a third-and-10 that moved the ball to the 26. Four plays later, Stanford linebacker Jon Alston was called for pass interference in the end zone, giving USC a first down at the two.

Two plays after that, tailback LenDale White scored to put USC ahead, 31-28, with 6:15 remaining.

Stanford started its final possession at its 13 and moved to its 33. But the drive ended when Trojan defensive end Frostee Rucker pressured Edwards into throwing an incomplete pass.

"We had our opportunities and we let it slip away," Stanford Coach Buddy Teevens said.

Leinart completed 24 of 30 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown without an interception. Edwards was only three for nine for 19 yards in the second half.

USC had taken an early 10-0 lead on Killeen's field goal and Leinart's two-yard touchdown pass to Smith after Kevin Arbet intercepted an Edwards pass and returned it 66 yards to the Cardinal two-yard line.

But the Cardinal then began a streak of 21 unanswered points -- Edwards' three-yard touchdown pass to Evan Moore (capping a 79-yard, 11-play drive), Edwards' two-yard pass to Patrick Danahy (ending a 76-yard drive) and Matter's touchdown on the fake field goal, which was set up by Smith's fumble.

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