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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Trojans make a statement, tough not an emphatic one

Their 14-9 win at Arizona State doesn't exactly say 'We' re back' but it's better than the alternative.

November 08, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

TEMPE, ARIZ. — Pete Carroll's USC team bounced back again after a loss.

It was more bowling-ball bounce than super ball, but after last week's embarrassing loss at Oregon, the Trojans would have taken anything -- even an ugly 14-9, TKO decision against Arizona State on a night their freshman quarterback completed seven of 22 passes for 112 yards.

And that's exactly what USC got -- an ugly, five-point win over Arizona State.

But this victory was sweet and -- dare we say? -- desperately needed.

"To get out of this funk we've been in for a couple of weeks," Carroll said.

The defense can show its face in public again after allowing Arizona State "only" 347 yards, which beats 613 in Eugene.

"It was really hard coming out of Oregon," safety Will Harris said on the Sun Devil Stadium field after the game. "It was embarrassing."

The offense, well, it made one play when it counted. Matt Barkley endured his worst game of the season -- by far -- but he did it on a night Arizona State tried to win with an 18-year-old freshman quarterback -- Brock Osweiler.

USC has not lost two straight games since Carroll's first year in 2001, but the Trojans could have lost Saturday if not for two sensational plays -- Harris' 55-yard interception return for a score and Damian Williams' electrifying 75-yard run for a touchdown on a short pass play that probably should have gained eight.

Forget how or why it happened -- it happened. The Trojans, left for dead last week in Oregon, are 7-2 and only one game back of the lead in the Pac-10 race.

Wait a minute -- didn't everyone say last week the Trojans' seven-year reign as conference champions was over?

"For whatever reason, you guys have amnesia," Carroll said. "Everybody wants to call it. That's why you play the darn season."

USC's hopes for getting back in the national title race are likely over -- there appears no life raft for a two-loss team when the two losses were at unranked Washington and a horror film at Oregon.

But with Oregon's stunning -- was it? -- loss at Stanford on Saturday, Carroll can start to bring up amnesia.

Wasn't it only two years ago that USC lost at Oregon, everyone conceded the league title to the Ducks, only to have USC win it?

Basically, it's a free-for-all again. Oregon and Arizona still control their own destinies in the league, meaning if either team wins out it goes to the Rose Bowl. But Oregon still has to play at Arizona State, at Arizona and against Oregon State. Arizona plays Oregon, at Arizona and at USC.

The Trojans need closing wins against Stanford, Arizona and UCLA and then some help. USC needs to end up in the right three-way scrum and win the right tie-breaker.

But that's still a long way from last week, when people were talking about the Sun Bowl, although that's still possible too.

The difference between this year and others is that USC is not as stable as it has been and the conference is a whole lot better.

This conference season has already been hard for USC, and it's not about to let up, although closing with three home games should help.

Carroll said in the locker room after Saturday's game that this is the strongest the Pac-10 has been since he has been USC's coach -- and that might not be typical coach talk.

Everything this year has been a tooth-yank -- even Washington State at home wasn't easy.

USC is doing it with Barkley, who misfired Saturday after completing five of 16 passes for 49 yards in the second half against Oregon.

Take away the 75-yard scoring pass to Williams, which was basically a Williams production after a short pass, and Barkley's numbers would have been more miserable.

Victory, though, defers everything until tomorrow.

What USC needed more than anything after last week's debacle were two huge plays to win Saturday.

It wasn't the emphatic statement USC fans are accustomed to.

After losing at Oregon State last year, USC responded by drilling Oregon, 44-10, at the Coliseum.

This wasn't a "we're back" statement.

But USC, which got taken off its feet in Oregon, got some of its equilibrium back.

"I think we have a formula," Carroll said of the Trojans' ability to respond. "When you get shattered, it's nice to have a method to get us back on track."

This year is like no other in the Pac-10. Before USC could think about getting back to the top, it had to get back in the game.

"We're not going to get any opportunities if we don't win the next game, and the next game after that," defensive end Devon Kennard said.

You don't think this year is different?

Two years ago, Stanford came to the Coliseum as a 41-point underdog before pulling off one of college football's all-time biggest upsets.

Well, Stanford is back in town next week, fresh off scoring 51 points against the Oregon defense that gave up only 20 to USC.

Stanford has the best freshman quarterback in the conference -- Andrew Luck.

USC's not going to be favored by 41 this time.

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chris.dufresne.latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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