The story: No. 4 USC avenged an early-season defeat from a year ago, beating Oregon State — just barely — in a closer-than-expected shootout, 42-36.
The Beavers had two chances to get the ball back late in the fourth quarter but failed to stop the USC offense on two third-down plays.
“It sucks,” said Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield, who completed 30-of-43 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. “We just ran out of time. We didn’t make enough plays and they made more.”
USC (6-1) led 21-6 at one point and 42-23 at another, but Oregon State (4-3) didn’t let up and pushed its way back into the games on both occasions.
“It’s a lesson learned,” fourth-year junior linebacker Michael Morgan said. “We shut them down for the most part in the first half but they came out as a different team in the second half.”
Key play: Shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, USC receiver Damian Williams took a punt back 63 yards for the touchdown, opening the Trojans’ lead up to 42-23.
At the time it looked like it would be the dagger in the Beavers’ collective heart.
Oregon State did manage to put together two consecutive touchdown drives to get the score close, but Williams’ touchdown proved to be the difference.
“We needed a big play, and we were real fortunate to make that play,” Williams said. “The biggest thing was the blocking. I told the guys that all they had to do was give 100% on that play and I’d do the rest.”
USC coach Pete Carroll mentioned after the game that special teams coordinator Brian Schneider had switched up the blocking schemes just before the return occurred.
“Damian’s punt return was exhilarating — the play of the year,” Carroll said. We were anticipating that this might be the one, and it was.”
Most valuable player: Fourth-year junior running back Allen Bradford. Bradford ran a career-high 15 times for a career-high 147 yards, including two touchdowns and six first downs.
He didn’t spell starter Joe McKnight until midway through the second quarter. From that point on, McKnight rushed the ball only three times while Bradford ran all over the Oregon State defense.
“I feel like I can go out there and display how fast I am and how physical I am,” Bradford said. “And that’s all I want to do.”
Surprise performance: After a forgettable one-catch performance at Notre Dame a week prior, junior receiver Ronald Johnson led the Trojans in receiving with six catches for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Beavers.
Johnson also made an impressive diving catch on a corner route that got the Coliseum crowd roaring early in the second quarter.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Johnson said. “Making a comeback like that, it just feels perfect.”
Johnson missed the first five games of the season with a broken collarbone before making a largely uneventful return in South Bend.
Saturday, he earned his first start of the season and did wonders with it.
“’We’ve got RoJo back’ is the statement that he made today,” Williams said. “He’s been that playmaker in the past, but we’ve needed him this season.”
“He’s back, and we can count on him.”
The Rodgers brothers: Jacquizz and James continued to terrorize the Trojans, producing a combined 317 all-purpose yards Saturday.
James, the elder brother and a receiver, caught seven passes for 56 yards, ran six times for 46 yards and amassed 96 kick return yards.
Jacquizz, a running back, rushed for 115 yards on 20 carries despite missing the entire second quarter.
“He’s intense,” middle linebacker Chris Galippo said of the true sophomore, who ran for 194 yards against the Trojans in 2008. “He’s super explosive, he’s really shifty, he’s got tremendous balance. He does a whole bunch of things really well. “
Neither brother weighs more than 200 pounds nor stands taller than 5-foot-7. Still, they continued to puzzle USC.
Said receiver Ronald Johnson: “Hey, whatever works for them, right?”
Stat of the game: 482 yards on offense to 429. The Oregon State offense outgained the Trojans for the second consecutive year.
“They are probably the most explosive offense we have played,” USC safety Taylor Mays said. “With Jacquizz and James [Rodgers], it has to be the best offense we have played.”
The Rodgers brothers weren’t so complimentary of their own performance.
“If you don’t win, it doesn’t really mean anything,” Jacquizz Rodgers said. “It would’ve been good if we got the win.”
Quote of the game: “It was like the opposite of last year.” – USC defensive coordinator Rocky Seto compared the Trojans’ win to the upset in Corvallis.
Last year, USC lost 27-21 despite a furious second-half comeback after starting the game off in a 21-0 hole.
This year, the Trojans almost let Oregon State do what they couldn’t manage to.
“We had a slow start last time,” Seto said. “This game we started off better than them, but then they got the momentum in the second half.”
“We switched it around.”