A season ago, Stafon Johnson was an afterthought in the USC backfield. On Saturday night, he continued a surprising renaissance in the Trojans' 49-31 victory over Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.
Johnson did not start but led all rushers with 11 carries for 144 yards, including a couple of dazzling cutbacks and a seven-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
"I thought Stafon Johnson really [maxed] out," Coach Pete Carroll said. "He had a lot of space."
It was the sophomore's first 100-yard game, but he tried to downplay the performance.
"I'm still a role player," he said. "Whenever they call my name, I have to be ready at all times."
Walk-on kicker Brad Smith did not make USC's traveling squad for the Nebraska game. But the senior transfer from Davidson College still made the trip.
Smith booked a last-minute red-eye from Los Angeles to Omaha at his own expense, which he estimated at nearly $1,000.
"My goal from day one was to be as big a part of this as I can -- you have to be there," said Smith, a graduate student who was a Division I-AA Mid-Major All-American last season.
"Part of it is for the enjoyment, part of it is to demonstrate my commitment to the team and part of it is it's a life experience."
Smith, wearing his black and yellow USC warmup gear, strolled the streets of downtown Lincoln, Neb., before the Trojans arrived by bus from Omaha. Most of the red-clad passersby cast curious looks. Others approached to ask questions or request taking a photograph.
"People are generally friendly and gregarious and occasionally effusive, although there was an occasional snide remark," he said.
Jess White, a Nebraska sophomore working behind the counter at a local eatery, said she thought Davis might be lost when he came in and placed an order.
"I saw him in his game stuff," she said, chuckling. "I saw him and I was thinking, 'Does he know where the stadium is?' "
Smith joined the Trojans on the sideline before the game in cardinal and gold warmups.
At least two things distinguish Saturdays at Memorial Stadium from the rest of the college football landscape.
One: Husker burgers shaped like the state of Nebraska. A local suggested using ketchup to form the Platte River across the middle of the patty and dabs of mustard for the cities.
Two: Fans who applaud as the visiting team exits the field after each game. The Cornhusker faithful pride themselves on graciousness, and USC fans in town for the weekend said they were treated well. Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said rudeness is not tolerated: "If some drunken Nebraskan started taunting a USC fan, everybody else in the bar would pummel him."
USC kick returner Vince Joseph was taken off the field on a stretcher after suffering a bruised larynx in the second quarter. With Nebraska leading, 10-7, Joseph returned a kickoff 18 yards before he was knocked to the turf by Rickey Thenarse. Joseph lay on the field for several minutes and then was taken to the hospital. . . . USC's Alfred Rowe suffered a concussion in the second quarter and did not return. . . . Linebacker Clay Matthews, who made his first career start, sustained a broken bone in his left thumb but said it would not require surgery. He said he would wear a soft cast and play.