CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Two years ago USC could blame a failed two-point conversion pass attempt for its confounding and confusing loss here to Oregon State.
On Thursday, there was no single moment it could point to as the reeling Trojans tried to sort through the whys and wherefores of their stunning 27-21 loss to the Beavers at Reser Stadium, now affirmed as their personal house of horrors.
"I've been here before," USC quarterback Mark Sanchez said, forcing a smile. "This state ain't too good to us."
As fans ran through the stands and onto the dewy grass, ignoring the public address announcer's emotional pleas to not "make fools of yourselves on the national stage," the Trojans trudged off the field beaten for the first time this season and not exactly sure what happened.
The basic facts were obvious:
Freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers scored two touchdowns and netted 186 yards, most of them through the middle of the line, wriggling through holes the Trojans' defense couldn't seem to close.
Rodgers' older brother, sophomore wide receiver James Rodgers, caught two touchdown passes.
"They didn't hide what they were doing, they just did it and we couldn't stop it," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "We couldn't tackle him."
A USC comeback that seemed imminent simply fizzled in the third quarter, when the Trojans could never get the game-turning play they needed to take control.
Oregon State was methodical, efficient and resourceful.
USC was not.
"We just got knocked around," a downcast Carroll said.
"It wasn't a turnover game at all. That's usually what happens. We just got beat."
And it stung, maybe even more because a 14-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Patrick Turner brought the Trojans to within six with 1:19 to play and their first-half offensive failings came back to haunt them.
The Beavers, who had been 25 1/2 -point underdogs, were not going to be broken, not with the seemingly impossible within their reach.
To the delight of a crowd of 42,839 -- though thousands more are sure to say they were witnesses -- the Beavers held on, and Mike Riley, once in line for the USC head coaching job but unable to get out of his Chargers contract, had beaten the Trojans twice in a row here.
"Oregon State played great tonight. Mike had them ready," Carroll said.
"They played better than us. They played harder than us. They made all the plays they needed to make and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit. It's a great win."
It's one that no one could believe was evolving.
USC, top-ranked and dominant in its first two wins, seemed to have wrested control early in the second half.
Oregon State went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half and the Rodgers brothers, neither of whom stands 5 feet 9 on tiptoes, temporarily stopped twisting away from tackles and find the gaping holes they had scrambled through most of the first half.
You began to believe USC was building toward a comeback when Sanchez, as calm and cool as the soft twilight that descended on Reser Stadium on Thursday night, led the Trojans to their first touchdown on their first possession of the second half, a seven-play, 62-yard drive capped by a 26-yard pass to Ronald Johnson.
When USC scored on its second possession, too, a seven-play, 70-yard march ended with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Damian Williams along the left sideline, a dramatic Trojans rally seemed inevitable.
And then it wasn't.
Oregon State managed to score its fourth touchdown on a two-yard run by Jacquizz Rodgers with 2:39 to play, just too much for the Trojans to overcome.
"We came roaring back into it and got ourselves close but just couldn't finish it enough," Carroll said.
"We really hurt ourselves with our penalties. Time and again we put ourselves in difficult situations, too difficult to come back in a game like this."
And so they were left to listen to fireworks and loud celebrations ring around them as they patched up their wounds and soothed their egos.
Also to figure out why a defense that had been so steady in their first two games that it had inspired debate over whether it might be the best unit of the Carroll era, couldn't stop a pint-sized running back who boldly took them on and made his home field the Trojans' house of horrors.
Helene Elliott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.