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USC 18, OHIO STATE 15

Trojans drive past Buckeyes

Matt Barkley and Joe McKnight lead USC on an 86-yard march in the closing minutes.

September 13, 2009|Gary Klein

COLUMBUS, OHIO — The noise from a record Ohio Stadium crowd could not deter him.

The weight of carrying his team's national title hopes on his young shoulders did not make him sweat.

Matt Barkley, USC's freshman quarterback, etched his name into Trojan lore Saturday night, leading a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter as third-ranked USC defeated eighth-ranked Ohio State, 18-15.

In only his second game, the true freshman overcame a first-half interception and mid-game struggles to keep alive USC's hopes for a national title.

"We did struggle early on, but you have to go in with the mind-set that it's going to happen," Barkley said.

The Trojans overcame special teams miscues, poor field position and Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor to improve to 2-0 heading into their Pacific 10 Conference opener at Washington.

Tailback Stafon Johnson's second short touchdown run with 1:05 left put the Trojans ahead to stay.

"This program is all about finishing," wide receiver Damian Williams said. "We finish blocks, we finish runs and we finish games.

"Tonight we showed the world how we finish."

Barkley, running backs Joe McKnight and Johnson, the Trojans' offensive line and the defense showed a record Ohio Stadium crowd of 106,033 that they would not be intimidated, even after going into halftime tied 10-10 and trailing by five points midway through the final period.

"We don't have many games like this," Coach Pete Carroll said, adding "We didn't think we were going to lose at any time."

USC's dominance in big nonconference road games under Carroll continued, the Buckeyes now joining Auburn, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Nebraska as teams that could not hold off the Trojans.

"I've always said that having these difficult road games early in the year makes us," Carroll said. "All those amazing games we had on the road, those are huge for us when we accomplish that because you build from there."

Some might compare Saturday night's victory to the 2005 win at Notre Dame, but that USC team featured Matt Leinart, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in his fifth season.

Barkley has not even played five games.

"Matt Barkley played his butt off," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "He threw a pick early and he came back and played like he's a fifth-year senior out there on that last drive."

The final march covered 86 yards, McKnight doing much of the work as a receiver and runner. It ended with Johnson's two-yard touchdown run, his only carry of the 14-play series.

"I knew we had a little bit left, a little more than what they expected and we came through in the last minute," said Johnson, who rushed for 50 yards and also scored the Trojans' first touchdown. "You can't win a game in the first three quarters. You gotta win the game in the fourth quarter."

Said Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel: "Holding them to 18 points should be enough, but it wasn't."

Barkley struggled for most of the game, completing 15 of 31 passes for 195 yards, but he was three for five on the final drive, including consecutive completions of 21 yards to McKnight and 26 yards to tight end Anthony McCoy.

Barkley's fourth-quarter heroics overshadowed the play of Pryor, the 6-foot-6 sophomore, who completed 11 of 25 passes for 177 yards while rushing for 36 yards in 10 carries.

Pryor's only major mistake, however, helped the Trojans take an early lead.

Galippo dropped into coverage and picked off a Pryor pass on the opening series and returned it 51 yards to set up Johnson's one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal.

Pryor, though, did not back down.

After three running plays and a penalty, he connected with wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher on a 56-yard pass play that split the Trojans secondary.

Two plays later, running back Dan Herron scored on a two-yard touchdown run to tie the score, 7-7, with 8:06 left in the first quarter.

Aaron Pettrey's 18-yard field goal put Ohio State ahead at the start of the second quarter and Jordan Congdon tied it on the final play of the half with a 22-yard field goal.

But USC got off to a bad start in the second half.

On its second possession, the Trojans were once again deep in their own territory and punter Billy O'Malley set up to receive the snap in the end zone. The snap from Cooper Stephenson sailed over his head for a safety, putting the Buckeyes ahead, 12-10.

DeVier Posey's 24-yard return of the ensuing free kick allowed the Buckeyes to start a drive at the Trojans 43. But Ohio State could not convert a first and goal at the 10 and settled for Pettrey's 22-yard field goal and a five-point lead heading into the final quarter.

That set the stage for Barkley and the Trojans, who had stopped the Buckeyes twice in the period and got the ball for the final time with 7:15 left.

Barkley was sacked on the first play and the Trojans were called for a false-start penalty on the second.

But McKnight's 11-yard run and 21-yard reception started the Trojans on their way. His reception on a two-point conversion finished it.

"We just had to keep pushing and stay with the line," said McKnight, who carried five times for 32 yards during the march. "We've got the best line in the country up there, we just had to stay patient."

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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