USC Shakes Lethargy, Beats No. 5 Penn State : College football: Trojans bounce back from humiliation at hands of Memphis State to dominate Nittany Lions, 21-10.
Emerging from the tunnel before its nationally televised game against Penn State Saturday night at the Coliseum, the USC football team was greeted by a standing ovation from a crowd of 64,758.
Soon after, the Trojans proved themselves worthy of it.
Rebounding from an upset loss to Memphis State in their opener two weeks ago, the Trojans put forth a stifling defensive effort, scored touchdowns after two of their five takeaways and upset the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions, 21-10.
The loss was the first in 12 regular-season games for the Nittany Lions, who hadn’t been beaten since they lost to USC last year at the Coliseum, 19-14. This was a team talking about winning a national championship after overpowering Cincinnati, 81-0, last week.
“What a difference two weeks makes,” said USC Coach Larry Smith, who had suggested that the Trojans’ 24-10 loss to Memphis State might have been the low point in the history of the program. Smith said that USC had had no respect for the Tigers and wasn’t prepared for the game.
“It was just a matter of when you play with emotion and intensity and have your mind set on winning--you saw what happened.”
Blitzing frequently and effectively, USC kept the pressure on Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca, who completed 18 of a career-high 40 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice, sacked five times and failed to reach the end zone in the second half.
USC cornerback Jason Oliver made three interceptions, the last on a pass by Sacca’s fourth-quarter replacement, Matt Nardolillo.
“The last two weeks, we just had a renewed (enthusiasm),” Smith said. “We learned to block and tackle better and (against Penn State) we played with a little more intensity. We just played a great game.”
Smith saw it coming in practice.
“I could see quite a change in the intensity,” he said. “Guys with a lot of pride went out on the field and didn’t slack off. In fact, I was a little worried that we were beating ourselves up. There was a never-say-die attitude and a determination that we were going to find a way to win.”
Unable to match the emotion of the Trojans, who waved their arms to stir the crowd at every opportunity, Penn State was swept away.
“Nothing mystical or magical happened here tonight,” said Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, whose team committed seven fumbles--the Nittany Lions lost two--and suffered from three interceptions. “Southern Cal just played good, tough football. They were very tough, quick and aggressive.”
Paterno couldn’t remember the last time so many things had gone wrong for the Nittany Lions, who also were penalized 10 times for 90 yards.
“I don’t think we anticipated the all-out blitz, and it hurt us,” Sacca said. “It got a little frustrating. We had to change a lot of things at the line of scrimmage, and we didn’t have time to get a tempo.”
Penn State ran 14 more plays than USC and outgained the Trojans, 370 yards to 275, but USC quarterback Reggie Perry made the most of the turnovers, passing for 123 yards and a touchdown and running for 52 yards and another touchdown.
The Trojans, whose performance against Memphis State sent the crowd home early, seemed inspired by the warm reception that greeted them.
They rode the emotion throughout the game.
Their second possession started with a 32-yard pass play, Perry to tight end Yonnie Jackson. The Trojans, outscored in the second half against Memphis State, 21-0, kept on moving down the field.
A 70-yard drive ended with Perry again connecting with Jackson, this time on a seven-yard touchdown pass play. On the scoring play, Jackson hesitated for a moment at the line of scrimmage, then drifted to his left before taking the pass from Perry at about the five-yard line.
Cornerback Derek Bochna was waiting at the two, but the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Jackson bowled over him for his first touchdown as a Trojan.
“He made a great run on it,” Perry said of Jackson, whose effort gave Perry his first scoring pass as a Trojan.
Penn State pulled even with 9:50 left in the half when Sacca threw to wideout Terry Smith on a 13-yard touchdown pass play. The most important play of the 76-yard scoring drive, however, was probably a fumble recovery by the hustling Sacca, who was in the right place at the right time when Smith lost control of the ball at the end of a 34-yard pass play.
The Nittany Lions weren’t as fortunate on their next possession, when wideout O.J. McDuffie fumbled after taking a pass from Sacca. McDuffie avoided defender Lamont Hollinquest, but lost the ball when hit by safety Mike Salmon. Linebacker Matt Gee recovered for USC.
A personal foul against the Nittany Lions after the play gave the Trojans a first down at Penn State’s 20-yard line. Three plays later, the Trojans scored, tailback Deon Strother diving over from one yard out to give USC a 14-7 lead that it would take into the locker room at halftime.
USC maintained the advantage until 11:42 left, when a 38-yard field goal by Craig Hayak cut Penn State’s deficit to 14-10.
Seemingly losing a bit of its momentum at that point, USC went three plays and out on its next possession, but another miscue by the Nittany Lions on a punt return put the visitors in a hole again.
Smith, attempting to take a handoff from McDuffie after McDuffie fielded Ron Dale’s punt, lost control of the ball. He eventually chased it down, but not until it had skipped back to Penn State’s six-yard line.
Then, on second down at the 13, fullback Sam Gash fumbled when he was hit by linebacker Gidion Murrel.
Defensive tackle Terry McDaniels recovered at the 14.
It took the Trojans six plays to score, with Perry increasing USC’s lead to 21-10 on a two-yard run with 6:36 remaining.