USC squeaked by Ohio State with a quarter drive that was better late than never, pushing the Trojans on top, 18-15. But nothing in this game, that really was a battle of the defenses, was easy. It started off with Chris Galippo intercepting OSU’s Terrelle Pryor at the USC 47 and returning it 50 yards to set up a touchdown at the two. But three goal line stops by Ohio State’s defensive line and USC was debating whether they should go for it or settle for a field goal on fourth down. Big Balls Pete Carroll, of course, went for it. Had he not, USC would not have won this game.
I kid you not, that was what won this game: Pete Carroll’s balls. Or Jim Tressel’s lack thereof. It sure as hell wasn’t Matt Barkley.
Pete Carroll went for it on fourth down four times, keeping his drives alive. He was successful on three of them. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was put in the same situation and elected to keep on punting or kicking field goals. He was 0-1 on fourth down conversions, and that was out of necessity. He had two fourth and goals, yet elected to kick. His conservative play calling kept the score low enough for the Trojans to overcome. If he had more trust in his player’s abilities, which he should, the team wouldn’t have the same terrible record in big games. OSU had won the field position battle the entire match.
The game was tied 10-10 at half time. Then early in the third, a high snap sailed over USC punter O’Malley’s head and out through the back of the endzone, giving the Buckeye’s a 12-10 lead over the Trojans. Tyrelle Pryor looked sharp, and on the very next drive, marched the ball down to the Trojans’ goal line. USC’s defense made a ridiculous goal line stand, and instead of going for it on 4th down, Tressel elected for a conservative field goal, putting the Buckeyes up 15-10. Maybe it’s the sweater vest and neck tie, cutting circulation to his testicular region. Of course Tressel was just trying to protect against a USC stop and later field goal. But playing it safe cost him the win.
But not before it got scary for the Trojans. USC had a couple of drives left on the clock but Matt Barkley just couldn’t get anything going. USC’s offense was off the field so quickly that the Trojan defense was starting to wear down. Aside from USC’s one field goal right before halftime, Barkley hadn’t really had a single successful drive.
Seven minutes left in the game and the Trojans trailed. The punt pinned the Trojans at their own 14. Barkley was sacked back at the 10. A delay of game took them back to their 5. Suddenly it was second and long, and Matt Barkley didn’t look like he could do it. But Joe could.
Joe McKnight gave Barkley a little help from his friends, rushing 37 yards on two carries to get USC the first down. A couple short passes to McCoy and Williams, a quarterback scramble, and push on fourth down got USC to the Ohio State 6 yard line with 01:14 left on the clock. Two plays later Stafon Johnson danced in the endzone on a two yard rush to the right side to make it 16-15. Joe McKnight added a two point conversion to make it field goal safe, 18-15.
With 1:05 left on the clock, the game was up to USC’s defense. And they delivered. The only fourth down Tyrelle Pryor attempted was done out of desperation with 30 seconds left in the game, and USC’s defense denied it.
Offensively it was an ugly game. Barkley was 15/31 for 195 yards and an interception. Only Stafon Johnson (both TDs) and Joe McKnight had over 50 yards, barely. McKnight did add 45 yards on two catches. And Damien Williams was the only receiver to hit the 50 yard mark. Kicker Jordan Congdon was 1/2 when his 44 yard attempt in the second quarter just didn’t have enough leg (though on target) hitting the center cross bar and bouncing back onto the field.
But for being such a sluggish offensive game, I have to say this was the most exciting USC game I have seen in years. It hasn’t been since the famous USC-Notre Dame Bush-push that I was so on the edge of seat, just moments away from cardiac arrest.
And maybe I’m being too harsh on the kid. Barkley did engineer the drive that won this game. First huge game against a tough, national, non-conference, road opponent. But if not for Galipo’s interception, there would be no victory. If not for USC’s defensive goal line stops, there would be no victory. If not for Joe McKnight’s legs, there would be no victory. If not for Carroll’s play calling, there would be no victory. If not for Jim Tressel’s conservative play calling, there would be no victory. If not for Barkley…there would always be Corp.
Maybe that’s not fair. But that’s the world Barkley’s in. Any Barkley win will make him the golden child. Any Barkley loss will make the Trojan Nation wonder what Corp could have been. This game was scary enough it had me wondering. The Buckeyes fought good. The Buckeyes fought hard. And USC came out on top. This time at least.