McKnighted: USC Wins 18-15 After Late TD Drive

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USC Finishes 14-Play Drive with TD to Win Game

14 plays and 6 minutes later, USC has their first lead of the game, surging ahead of the Buckeyes 18-15 with a touchdown and two-point conversion. Brent Musburger is drooling over freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, but it was the sophomore running back Joe McKnight who fueled the winning drive.

Ohio State just missed on fourth down, meaning this thing is over. Another big game on national TV, another Buckeyes loss -- and just like their last one, in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas, they played well enough to win. They did not, however, score enough points to win. One day, Jim Tressel will figure that out.

Maybe.

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Barkley, USC Driving, 3 Minutes Left

The Trojans finally have a drive going, moving the ball inside Ohio State's 25 with the clock rolling under 3 minutes now. It's do or die time for USC, looking to win their seventh straight over Ohio State.

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The Rush Defenses, Too?

Andrew makes a good point about both quarterbacks' performances -- which I'd characterize as uneven, in Pryor's case, in-over-his-head for Barkley -- but both are being put in tough spots by their teams' inabilities to rush the football. The Buckeyes have 66 yards on 25 attempts (2.6 ypa), USC has just 84 on 30 attempts (2.8 ypa). It's hard to say which is causing which (USC can't run because they can't pass, or vice versa?), but either way, this game -- still a 5-point contest with 9 minutes remaining -- may come down to which team can come up with a single big play on offense.

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Defense is no Fun; I Blame the Quarterbacks

One day, I will almost certainly look like an idiot for calling Terrelle Pryor or Matt Barkley "mediocre," but that's what they are right now. Their performance has been uneven throughout, and perhaps that's a credit to the outstanding defense being played by both teams, but more likely, it's a combination of both.

In matters of college football knowledge, I'll always defer to either Spencer Hall or Peter Bean, but I will say this: a good quarterback makes a world of difference in defining the aesthetics of the game. And while both Pryor and Barkley have shown flashes of brilliance in this and past games, neither have been able to put together any sort of consistent play tonight. At 15-10, with teams trading field goals, interceptions, and even a safety(!), yeah, you could say the aesthetics leave something to be desired.

As I type this, Pryor just one-hopped a throw to an open Brian Hartline in the endzone (also known as a "McNabb"). THAT is not the defense. So, perhaps it's my commentary jinx, or perhaps it's the athletic defenses, but I think the shoddy quarterback play is a big reason while this game has been a tease thus far. Who knew I'd be pining for Jacory Harris on a Saturday night?

But that's enough; now back to your regularly-scheduled well-reasoned analysis from Messrs Bean and Hall.

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Field Goal Pushes Lead to 15-10

About that last drive: Ohio State got close, but couldn't punch it in. A field goal extends the lead to 5, as USC looks to get their stalled offense moving again.

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Bad Snap, Safety Push Bucks Ahead 12-10

Both defenses have looked great in the third quarter so far, but the Buckeyes just got points from theirs. After pinning and then holding the Trojans deep in their own territory, USC's snap to the punter sailed high and out of his grasp, resulting in a safety and a 12-10 Ohio State lead. Even better for Ohio State, they got the ball around midfield on the ensuing free kick, Terrelle Pryor connected on a 20-yard completion, and Ohio State is in striking distance, with a chance to put USC in a hole.

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Congdon Connects, Ties Game 10-10 at Half

Getting the ball back at their own 20 with just 55 seconds remaining, USC figured to run out the clock and head for the tunnels, but Stefan Johnson promptly broke off a 29 yard run, Matt Barkley completed three straight passes, and the Trojans moved inside the Buckeyes' 5. USC didn't have enough time to get the touchdown, but they picked up the short field goal as time in the half expired, knotting the game at 10. We're back where we started, with 30 minutes to play. Fitting, today, isn't it?

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Congdon's Field Goal Attempt Hits Crossbar

USC placekicker Jordan Congdon's 44-yard field goal attempt to tie the game fell short... like, an inch short. The kick hit the crossbars and bounced back into the field of play, leaving Ohio State still ahead 10-7 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half.

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The Pryor Show: OSU's QB Sets Up TDs for Both Teams

We've heard all week about how this game comes down to one guy -- Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor -- and so far, the story is sticking. On the Buckeyes' first possession Pryor threw a terrible pass over the middle that USC intercepted and returned to the Ohio State 2-yard line, setting up a Stefan Johnson touchdown run. But Pryor bounced back with the ball back in his hands, completing a 56-yard pass that gave the Bucks their own 1st and Goal inside the 2, later converted by Daniel Herron for an equalizer touchdown. Halfway through the first, we're tied, 7-7.

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Unstoppable vs. Immovable: Terrelle, Meet Taylor

Tonight's game features a number of stars--USC and Ohio State aren't exactly lacking for big name talent--but none that shine brighter than OSU's Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and USC's Safety Taylor Mays. Both players have cartoonish athleticism, and last year were dominant at times for their respective teams. And yet, both still have eons of untapped potential that, if fulfilled, could bring their teams a long way this season. 

But enough faux-analysis. For an excellent look at what's made Terrelle Pryor such a mythic figure at Ohio State, witness Details Magazine's extensive profile of him from two summers ago:

"Terrelle, you’ve been the man your whole life," I say. "How are you going to handle the bench?"

"The bench?" Pryor’s expression changes: First there’s the stunned deer, then the hunter ready to gun Bambi down—the kid has given up one of his two loves so he could shine in the other. "I can’t believe I won’t be playing basketball next year," he says, biting hard on his pinky nail—a strange, LeBron-like habit he displays in pressure situations. "I was watching the NCAA tourney last month. Guys I used to own in AAU were getting 20, 25 points a game." He grabs the doughnut bag, swivels his chair, and shoots the bag into a garbage can, quoting the latest LeBron James TV ad: "I won’t be on the bench."

After four years of Friday-night miracles, games in which Pryor went literally untouched, in which the Jeannette Jayhawks would score at will from anywhere on the field (on 7 of the first 10 plays in one contest), in which the Mercy Rule—no clock stoppage once a 35-point lead is hit—kicked in (14 of 16 his senior year) and Pryor pulled himself out, usually in the third quarter, there is no doubt in Pennsylvania that he will soon be starting every Saturday at OSU. The only debates here are about when he’ll be playing football on Sundays, in the NFL. Some insist he won’t spend a senior year in Columbus, others that he’ll stay to collect a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy (or two) on his way to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. [...]

The rest of Jeannette got an inkling of Pryor’s transcendence early in a football game against Washington High during Pryor’s sophomore year. "Terrelle goes back to pass," Reitz recalls. "The protection breaks down. He comes out of the pocket, gets to the six-yard line, a kid comes up, and Terrelle leaps, sails over the kid’s head, and lands five yards deep in the end zone." While recitations vary as widely as fishing stories, a photo shows Pryor in midair, cleats at eye level with the five-foot-four water boy. And everyone remembers the reaction the same way. "Nothing happens," says DeNunzio. "Terrelle gets up, hands the ball to the ref like nothing special happened. The whole stadium had stopped. It took the ref 15 seconds to signal the TD."

As for Taylor Mays, I have no spiffy profile from a national magazine. All I have is the following statistics: 6 feet, 3 inches; 230 Pounds; and fast enough to run a sub-4.3 40-yard dash. Oh, and this picture:

Taylormays_medium

His neck muscles can tear your limbs off. There are a host of compelling storylines for tonight's game, but none with more potential than the duel between these two natural wonders. Get excited.

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OSU Fans: Pryor Must Pass Well for Bucks to Win

While the Trojans walloped the Buckeyes in Los Angeles last fall, Ohio State was the team with hopes that a freshman quarterback might help steal the big road win (Terrell Pryor didn't start, but came in after Todd Boeckman got hurt). This year, the tables are turned, Pryor is the best offensive player on either team, and USC will be looking for the road win behind a freshman QB.

I say Pryor is the best offensive player on either team as a judgment of my own -- not because Pryor has yet begun dominating opponents. For Ohio State to win Saturday night, he'll need to. The indispensable We Will Always Have Tempe offers his strategic take:

Ohio State will not win if Terrelle Pryor passes for fewer than 150 yards. To help him do this, OSU needs to immediately exploit play-action when and if the running game hits it stride. Yes, Ohio State will need to exploit the same thing USC will be trying to on the other side of the ball, but it's going to have to do it in a variety of ways. I'm hoping we'll see a little bit of variation as far as the looks we give USC on the fake hand-off; motion a WR into the backfield, put a HB in the slot and do the same thing, or hell, even do the patented Tim Tebow QB-only play-action fake, in which Pryor basically does a headfake and prays a DB bites on it.

That seems sensible, especially because so much of the focus this week has been on the need for Terrell Pryor to do what Vince Young did to Pete Caroll and USC. Fans mostly remember the 200 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing the Texas legend amassed in that Rose Bowl, but it was his equally brilliant passing -- 267 yards on 30 of 40 passing -- that broke USC's back.

Pryor must be able to do the same on Saturday night. Watching the supremely talented Ohio State quarterback in last year's Fiesta Bowl, Texas fans (and linebackers) were caught off guard by how much ground Pryor covered with his long strides. Eventually, everyone adjusted, but there's little doubt that the kid can run like the best of the best rushing QBs. Pete Caroll will be keyed on stopping Terrell Pryor the rusher, and if that's all he's doing, USC surely will. The key will be for Pryor to move the chains through the short and intermediate passing game, forcing USC to play the pass honestly and giving Pryor the opportunity to break the kinds of devastating runs that Vince Young did three years ago.

Blog Coverage: Ohio State  /  USC

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Ohio State Hosts USC for Shot at Redemption

Jim Tressel, destiny is paging you: after a series of high-profile losses on national television in huge games (let's forget about a victory over Texas in 2006, because everyone else seems to), Ohio State has the opportunity to reclaim much of its lost credit score as national title contender in the form of the USC Trojans, their guests this weekend in Columbus.

Eleven Warriors, the superb Buckeye site, goes into this with no illusions about the Buckeyes' chances against what has been the best college football program of the new millennium.

It pains us at the 11W headquarters to have to pick against the Buckeyes, but with a young team struggling to find their identity early in the season things do not look good for the Buckeyes. We think the game will be close and a turnover or a single possession (like a certain dropped pass against Texas in 2005) may indeed decide the outcome of the game.

Preparing for the worst is the theme in Columbus this weekend in every sense. One logistical problem with big games in Columbus has been the lack of bathrooms, something local officials have prepared for by increasing the number of bathrooms and hopefully preventing creative improv by the locals

Ohio State hopes so and says it has learned its lesson from big matchups such as the Texas game in 2005, in which cleanup crews found several soiled shorts and a few coolers filled with poop.

Imagine the unpleasant surprise when they called out the bomb squad to investigate the suspicious object, and found a destructive device of an entirely different nature waiting inside.

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