All things considered, Pete Carroll had no reason to complain with the end result of a win.
But the defensive-minded coach sighed slightly when discussing his team giving up season highs in points and yards allowed.
After the Trojans surged out to an early lead, USC and Oregon State swapped scores down the stretch in a shootout that left both defenses exhausted. A high-powered attack centered on a strong ground game pushed USC toward a 42-36 win against Oregon State on Saturday at the Coliseum.
The Beavers were within striking range of the Trojans in the fourth quarter, but the USC offense converted two third-downs and wiped the final five minutes off the clock to secure the win.
“This is a different game than we hoped to have,” Carroll said. “The offense carried us because we challenged them to win this game for us.”
Senior running back Allen Bradford anchored the USC running game with a career-high 147 yards on 15 carries. With starter Joe McKnight sidelined with a hand injury, Bradford became the offense’s centerpiece. He plunged into the end zone from the 2-yard line and ripped off a 43-yard run in the third quarter for his second touchdown of the day.
But even after redshirt junior wide receiver Damian Williams returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown, the Beavers did not relent.
A 1-yard touchdown run by Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers drew the Beavers within six, but Oregon State couldn’t cut any deeper into the Trojans’ lead.
“We really just ran out of time,” Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield said. “At the end of the day, we just didn’t get enough big plays.”
Canfield shredded the Trojans secondary for 329 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-43 passing. After Rodgers was temporarily sidelined by an ankle injury in the third quarter, Canfield kept the Beavers offense alive by repeatedly finding his safety valves. His favorite target, tight end Joe Halahuni, reeled in nine catches for 127 yards.
The diminutive Rodgers returned in the second-half to give the Beavers balance by rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
“We schemed the run up really well and thought that was what they were going to come out and do, especially after last year,” said linebacker Chris Galippo. “They came out early and we shut the running game down, but then they got out on us in the passing game and the perimeter game.”
The Beavers’ 36 points was the most allowed by a USC team in the Coliseum since 2005. For a USC defense that had frequently lifted a sluggish offense through the first half of the season, the role reversal came as somewhat of a surprise.
“Letting up 36 points, you can lose a lot of games that way,” said senior safety Taylor Mays. “It’s disappointing, but we have confidence in what we can do.”
Coming off a career game at Notre Dame, true freshman Matt Barkley had two touchdowns passing and ran the ball in for a score from the 1-yard line. The signal-caller’s second touchdown throw came in the second quarter when wide receiver Ronald Johnson made a diving catch in the end zone for his first score of the year.
After missing the first five games of the season with a broken collarbone and contributing sparingly against Notre Dame, the junior said the highlight reel catch provided him with relief.
“It felt like all the pressure was off me,” Johnson said. “It had been so long since I had gotten one, so it felt really good.”
Barkley also threw two interceptions, including a fourth-quarter pick that set up the Beavers’ final scoring drive.
Still in the thick of a Pac-10 title race with next week’s game against conference leader Oregon looming, the Trojans took solace in coming out of the night still poised to make a run for the league championship.
“Every week in the Pac-10 is a dogfight,” Galippo said. “You have to be ready for teams that are trying to make their season by beating you.”