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NO. 1 USC 50, NO. 16 FRESNO STATE 42

Almost Bush-Whacked

Trojans get a major scare but come from behind in fourth quarter to stay unbeaten behind Bush, whose 513 all-purpose yards are Pac-10 record.

November 20, 2005|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

From the day in February when USC reluctantly put Fresno State on its schedule, the Trojans knew they faced a potential hazard on their road to a third consecutive national championship.

Fresno State lives by the motto "Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere."

And on Saturday night at the Coliseum, the Bulldogs proved it was not just wordplay.

Safety Darnell Bing's interception in the end zone in the final minute secured top-ranked USC's 50-42 victory before a sellout crowd of 90,007.

The play helped extend USC's winning streak to 33 games and kept the Trojans on track for a berth in the Rose Bowl, this season's bowl championship series title game.

On a night when USC running back Reggie Bush established a Pacific 10 Conference record with 513 all-purpose yards -- the second-most in NCAA Division I-A history -- the Trojans needed several big plays from their defense to hold off a Fresno State team bent on pulling off the upset of the year.

Bush rushed for 294 yards and scored on second-half touchdown runs of 45 and 50 yards as the Trojans won their 26th consecutive home game.

"This was a hard night," said USC Coach Pete Carroll, who improved to 16-0 in November games.

USC trailed, 21-13, at halftime -- the first time in more than three years the Trojans were behind at the break at home -- but intercepted three passes by Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar and scored 28 points in the third quarter for a 41-28 lead.

Fresno State, however, pulled to within 41-35 on Wendell Mathis' 18-yard touchdown run with 9:59 left.

Bush put the Bulldogs in position to take the lead when he fumbled on the ensuing kickoff.

On the first play after the fumble, Mathis ran 22 yards for a touchdown and a 42-41 lead.

But USC, which had come back for victories against Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame, rallied again.

LenDale White's two-yard touchdown run with 6:22 put the Trojans back in front, 47-42. A two-point conversion try failed.

When defensive end Lawrence Jackson sacked Pinegar and caused him to fumble on the ensuing possession, the Trojans looked ready to put the game away. But Fresno State forced USC to settle for Mario Danelo's third field goal, a 26-yarder that gave the Trojans a 50-42 lead.

Fresno State began its final drive at its 28 and drove down the field behind Pinegar, who completed four of six passes.

But on first and 10 from the 25, Pinegar tried to throw into the end zone. Bing stepped in for his second interception of the game and returned the ball 40 yards to secure the victory.

USC, which improved to 11-0, had already been assured of its fourth straight BCS bowl berth before the game even began, thanks to Oregon's victory over Oregon State earlier Saturday.

The Trojans, who are 7-0 in the Pacific-10 Conference, can finish no worse than in a three-way tie for first place with Oregon and UCLA even if they lose to the Bruins on Dec. 3.

At worst, the Trojans could wind up in the Fiesta Bowl.

But they have eyes only for the Rose Bowl.

USC quarterback Matt Leinart completed 22 of 33 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown for the Trojans, who amassed 508 total yards.

Pinegar completed 27 of 45 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions for the Bulldogs, who finished with 427 yards.

Brandon Ting and Scott Ware also intercepted passes for the Trojans.

USC fell behind by 11 points midway through the second quarter and was behind, 21-13, at halftime.

But the Trojans scored 21 unanswered points to start the second half to take a 34-21 lead.

USC started its second-half rally by forcing the Bulldogs to go three and out on the first possession. Ryan Ting provided the pivotal play by breaking up a third-down pass.

Bush's 35-yard run on the second play of the drive set up a one-yard touchdown sneak by Leinart that cut the lead to 21-20.

On Fresno State's next possession, nose tackle Sedrick Ellis batted down a Pinegar pass on second and 18 from the six. On the next play, Pinegar tried to throw a deep pass that was intercepted by Brandon Ting.

Bush wasted no time capitalizing, taking a handoff and dashing 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Trojans their first lead, 27-21.

On the first play of the ensuing possession, Bing intercepted a pass by Pinegar and returned it to the end zone for an apparent touchdown. USC, however, was called for an illegal block on the return and was forced to take over at the Bulldog 32.

Leinart completed consecutive passes to Dwayne Jarrett and tight end Fred Davis before throwing a six-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith for a 34-21 lead with 8:25 left in the third quarter.

Mathis brought the Bulldogs back, carrying four times for 34 yards to set up Pinegar's 20-yard touchdown pass to Paul Williams, cutting USC's lead to 34-28.

The Trojans went three and out on the ensuing possession and Pinegar drove Fresno State to the eight-yard line. But safety Scott Ware intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 30 yards.

Two plays later, Bush sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown and a 41-28 lead.

Fresno State pulled to within 41-35 on Pinegar's six-yard touchdown pass to Joe Fernandez with 9:59 to play.

When USC trailed, 21-13, at halftime, it was the fourth time this season that the Trojans were behind at the break.

However, it was the first time that USC was behind at halftime at the Coliseum since Oct. 12, 2002, when the Trojans trailed Cal before coming back to win.

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USC will practice early this week and then take three days off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Trojans will then resume preparations for their annual showdown with UCLA.

USC has defeated the Bruins six years in a row.

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