Updated Jan. 11.
Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, leading USC to a 24-13 victory over Boston College in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 26.
The Trojans jumped out to an early 14-0 lead via two Barkley touchdown passes to redshirt junior fullback Stanley Havili — appearing to push away the demons that haunted them in the closing weeks of the season — but the Eagles fought back.
Boston College running back Montel Harris ran 23 times for 102 yards and one touchdown, including a dominating series in the second quarter in which he carried the ball four times for 48 yards and a score. Later in the period, 25-year-old Eagles freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie connected on a 61-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rich Gunnell to close the gap to 14-13.
When the Trojans’ first play of the second half proved to be a Barkley interception that gave Boston College the ball at USC’s nine-yard line, it appeared momentum was on the Eagles’ side.
But Harris was stuffed at the line and fumbled, and USC recovered and took the ball back the opposite way for a field goal. A stout Trojan defense proceeded to hold Boston College scoreless the rest of the way to secure the victory — one they said was important.
“We needed to do something good and feel good,” coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference. “There was a lot of distraction and a lot of adversity going into this thing, most of it self-inflicted. I’m very happy with the way we turned our focus and the way we accomplished things inside.”
USC (9-4) struggled to its worst finish this year since 2001, suffering four Pac-10 losses and turning up embarrassing performances in blowout losses to Oregon and Stanford late in the season.
Although many expected another flat performance at the Emerald Bowl, the Trojans showed up — but didn’t dominate.
Boston College had a shot to win until a fourth-quarter interception by redshirt junior cornerback Shareece Wright iced it for the Trojans.
“We certainly felt going in that we could win,” Eagles coach Frank Spaziani said in his press conference. “We knew how we had to play. We made too many mistakes. It’s frustrating.”
Boston College (8-5) lost its second straight bowl game while the Trojans picked up their 32nd bowl win — the most all-time.
Redshirt junior running back Allen Bradford had 17 carries for 72 yards, and redshirt junior receiver Damian Williams pulled in 12 catches for 189 yards for the Trojans — including a spectacular 48-yard catch in the second half — in what was his final game in Cardinal and Gold. Williams told reporters after the game he would decide within the next two weeks whether or not he would declare for the NFL draft.
As a whole, USC will surely face much scrutiny in the weeks to come concerning the ongoing Joe McKnight investigation and draft decisions from other juniors.
Junior defensive end Everson Griffen told the media after the game he would declare for the draft.
But the bowl game was a good sign, the players say, for what’s to come.
“We needed this ‘W,” Havili told the Associated Press. “We’re happy to start next season with a win. We had a great two weeks of practice and it was all a matter of executing.
“Yeah, we’re used to playing in the Rose Bowl but we’re still motivated to play and to win this game, since this is where we played. We had a great game plan up front. It was a growing season. We had a lot of young guys step up.”