USC already had proved that it could win close games, on the road at no less than Ohio State and Notre Dame.
The Trojans' midseason resume also included a rout at California.
On Saturday against Oregon State, USC for the first time found itself in a shootout at home.
With the help of tailback Allen Bradford and another big punt return from Damian Williams, the fourth-ranked Trojans outlasted Oregon State, 42-36, in front of 89,718 at the Coliseum.
"This was a different game than we hoped to have," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "We were scrambling trying to slow them down."
The victory improved USC to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference and kept the Trojans on track for a possible berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
But on a warm night, playing at home for the first time in four weeks, the Trojans got all they could handle from an Oregon State team determined to show that last season's upset of the then-No. 1 Trojans was no fluke.
"Nobody blinked," Oregon State Coach Mike Riley said. "A lot of times, it looked like when USC scored, it would be hard to get back in, but we always kept trying and I love our guys for it."
Oregon State (4-3, 2-2) might not have remained winless at the Coliseum since 1960 if it had turned any of its four first-half red-zone opportunities into touchdowns.
Instead, the Beavers settled for three Justin Kahut field goals while USC quarterback Matt Barkley passed for two touchdowns and ran for one.
Then the fun began.
"It keeps you on your toes," Barkley said of the second-half back-and-forth. "You've always got to be ready to come back on the field and execute.
"I liked it."
Barkley was not as fond of his performance, which he described as "mediocre" after having two passes intercepted (another interception was nullified by a penalty).
Meanwhile, Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield and running back Jacquizz Rodgers took advantage and brought Oregon State back each time the Trojans extended their 21-9 halftime lead.
"They spread us out when we played man to man and they just picked away," USC safety Taylor Mays said. "It was frustrating."
Bradford helped keep the Beavers at bay, rushing for a career-best 147 yards and two touchdowns in 15 carries.
Both touchdowns came in the third quarter after the Beavers twice cut the Trojans' lead to five points.
It was a long time coming for Bradford, a fourth-year junior from Colton High who has overcome position switches, injuries and forgotten-man status.
"It shows that by me running hard in practice, the coaches will put their trust and faith in me," he said.
Bradford also drew inspiration Saturday from Stafon Johnson's pregame visit to the locker room. The senior tailback is recovering from throat surgery necessitated by a weightlifting accident, a situation that bumped Bradford up the depth chart to No. 2 behind starter Joe McKnight.
"It felt like, 'I'm just going to run hard for him,' " Bradford said of Johnson.
Bradford's 43-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter put the Trojans ahead, 35-23, and Williams' 63-yard punt return for a touchdown increased the lead to 19 points.
But Oregon State, which outgained USC, 482 yards to 429, refused to quit.
"We were calm more than anything," said Canfield, who completed 30 of 43 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. "Me and rest of the offense, we figured it would be on us to put points on the board."
Just as it did last week against Notre Dame, USC's defense found itself on the spot.
"We knew the pressure was on," linebacker Michael Morgan said. "These guys came out the second half and they were a different team."
The biggest difference was Rodgers, the smallish tailback who had frustrated USC last season en route to 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns at Corvallis, Ore.
The sophomore, whom Carroll last week had compared to Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders, was slowed some by an ankle injury in the first half. He gained only 18 yards in seven carries before emerging at full strength for the final two quarters.
Rodgers finished with 113 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries.
"We had him under control in the first half but he came back a different guy -- and we missed some assignments," USC tackle Jurrell Casey said.
After Williams put the Trojans ahead, 42-23, with his second punt-return touchdown this season, the Beavers answered with a 70-yard kickoff return by Jordan Poyer.
That set up Canfield's third touchdown pass of the game, an eight-yard strike to receiver James Rodgers, Jacquizz's older brother.
The Beavers failed on a two-point conversion try, but they remained undeterred.
On the ensuing possession, safety Lance Mitchell intercepted a Barkley pass and the Beavers subsequently drove 74 yards behind Canfield, the Rodgers brothers and tight end Joe Halahuni.
Jacquizz Rodgers' one-yard touchdown run with 5:41 left brought the Beavers to within six points.
But Bradford converted one third down and Barkley completed a pass to Williams on another during a possession that ran out the clock.
"You never know what to expect in the Pac-10," said sophomore fullback D.J. Shoemate, who started in place of Stanley Havili. "There's a whole bunch of teams that are fighters.
"I'm just glad we could finish in the end."
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Out of character
USC had allowed 28 points in its last eight home games before Saturday, when it gave up 36 to Oregon State:
*--* 2008 Sept. 13 Ohio St. W, 35-3 Oct. 4 Oregon W, 44-10 Oct. 11 Arizona St. W, 28-0 Nov. 1 Washington W, 56-0 Nov. 8 California W, 17-3 Nov. 29 Notre Dame W, 38-3 2009 Sept. 5 San Jose St. W, 56-3 Sept. 26 Washington St. W, 27-6 *--*