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Times Staff Writer

Pete Carroll watched as the USC tailback took handoff after handoff and pounded his way down the field.

It was late in the fourth quarter. The game was on the line and the Trojans had put the ball, and their fortunes, in the hands of a punishing runner led by a determined offensive line.

Carroll had witnessed such a scene before, though his vantage point and allegiance along the USC sideline two weeks ago against Arizona State was markedly different than it was on Jan. 1, 1980.

That’s when Carroll, a young secondary coach at Ohio State, watched helplessly from the Rose Bowl press box as USC’s Charles White ground up the top-ranked Buckeyes during one of the most famous drives in Trojans history.

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“They ran it every down,” Carroll recalled, slowly shaking his head at the memory.

White, the Heisman Trophy winner, carried six times for 71 yards during the eight-play, 83-yard drive that gave USC a 17-16 victory and foiled Ohio State’s bid for a national title.

In its last game, USC kept its national championship hopes alive with a similar march against Arizona State.

The Trojans went 74 yards in 14 plays -- 13 runs and one pass attempt, which was incomplete -- with Chauncey Washington carrying 10 times for 64 yards, including the final two for a touchdown.

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Recalling the drive on Monday, Washington said he remembered turning to guard Drew Radovich and saying, “ ‘C’mon, let’s finish ‘em.’

“You ever heard of the video game Mortal Kombat?” Washington said. “You gotta finish. So I was telling him that every time we went down there and huddled up.

“I kept on saying that over and over. ‘Finish ‘em.’ ”

To Carroll, it also marked a possible beginning.

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“It demonstrated the element of our offense that we’ve always coveted -- a real physical side of the running game that complements the rest of the offense,” he said. “I’m really pleased about that. Now we need to do something with it from this point forward.”

Washington, who appears healthy after nursing a hamstring injury through the first five games, offered a suggestion.

“Hopefully it will give coaches ideas to start running the ball more,” he said.

But a run-dominated attack that harks back to the 1970s does not appear likely when USC resumes its schedule on Saturday at Oregon State.

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At least not yet.

Carroll and the offensive brain trust, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian, preferred balance even when Heisman winner Reggie Bush and LenDale White shared time in the backfield.

And entering the second half of the season, the Trojans have mostly achieved it.

USC has run the ball 215 times for 978 net yards. The Trojans are averaging 163 yards rushing a game, 4.5 yards per rushing play and have run for eight touchdowns.

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USC has passed 212 times for 1,386 yards, averaging 232.7 yards per game and 6.5 per attempt. Quarterback John David Booty has thrown 13 of the Trojans’ 14 touchdown passes.

“It’s more the knowing that you have it,” Carroll said of the running game. “We’re not going to just run the ball now that we were successful. We’re going to do what we have to do to try and keep the game moving and score.”

USC, which averaged 49 points a game in 2005, is scoring 30 a game this season. Though the Trojans’ output is down, their national-record streak of scoring at least 20 points is at 58 games.

“Do you know how difficult that is to do for that long?” Carroll said.

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Before the Arizona State game, with USC’s offense struggling some, Carroll asked Washington to step up his game and run strong, reminding him of the great USC tailbacks who came before him. USC has produced five Heisman-winning runners -- Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, White, Marcus Allen and Bush. Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell were Heisman runners-up, and Justin Fargas and LenDale White have been effective power runners during the Carroll era.

During the drive against the Sun Devils, Washington said, “I just got energy, a burst of energy and I got real emotional. If you watch me play I don’t really get emotional ... but I was really mad and pumped up because they were in our house and I didn’t want them to take that away from us.”

After the game, Garrett, now USC’s athletic director, compared the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Washington to a horse and said he knew the junior would have a breakout game “if they just gave him the ball.”

Other former Trojans felt the same way.

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“That was a public knighting,” said Brad Budde, the 1979 Lombardi Award winner as the nation’s top offensive lineman. “The coaching staff was saying, ‘He’s not a guy anymore. He’s the man.’ ”

Pro football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, watching the game at his home in Ohio, sat up and could barely believe his eyes as USC’s march down the field unfolded.

“Maybe this is the drive where all these guys grew up,” he said. “We can’t say we have a young team anymore. Hopefully, this is the time to take off.”

Budde and Munoz know something about defining, game-winning drives.

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It was Budde, a strong-side guard, and Munoz, a weak-side tackle, who teamed with guard Roy Foster, tackle Keith Van Horne, center Chris Foote and fullback Allen to clear the way for White during the historic Rose Bowl drive.

USC had blown a 10-point lead and trailed, 16-10, when it got the ball back with 5 minutes 21 seconds left in the game.

“I think everyone just sort of said, ‘Who are we kidding here? We’re a power football team. We should shove it down their throat,’ ” said Paul McDonald, the quarterback that season, who now works as a broadcaster on USC games.

White carried a few times and it was immediately clear to Carroll that any strategy involving the Buckeyes secondary was moot.

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“I’m thinking, ‘I wish they’d throw it.’ We might have got one off McDonald if he had thrown it,” Carroll said.

Instead, White kept pounding.

“I was thinking, ‘Give it to me again! I got 15 or so this time. Lord knows what’s going to happen the next time,’ ” recalled White, who started the drive with gains of 32 and 28 yards and ended it by diving one yard into the end zone with 1:32 left.

White finished with a Rose Bowl-record 247 yards in 39 carries.

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The Trojans’ victory that day moved them from No. 3 to No. 2 behind national champion Alabama. USC finished 11-0-1, a midseason tie with Stanford costing it a second consecutive national title.

USC begins the second half of this season 6-0 and No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. If the Trojans win the rest of their games they will probably earn a shot at playing for their third national title in four years.

The game-winning drive against Arizona State might have been the real start of a drive to that goal.

“It just kind of became an attitude ... and just saying, ‘This is how we’re going to win the game, come try to stop us,’ ” Trojans center Ryan Kalil said. “See who’s more physical, see who wants it more. Basically, that’s what it came down to.”

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Carroll, however, will reserve judgment about the drive’s long-term impact on the Trojans.

“I would never say that one drive did this or that because I don’t know that,” he said. “We’ll have to look back and see, when it all gets clear after we’re done with the season, if there’s a moment here.”

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

Carrying capacity

A look at Chauncey Washington’s 10 carries for 64 yards during USC’s 14-play drive that led to a 28-21 win over Arizona State:

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Drive begins at the USC 26-yard line with 11:27 remaining.

* Ball on USC 26: Six-yard run.

* USC 32: 23-yard run, 1st down.

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* ASU 46: Four-yard run.

* ASU 42: Six-yard run.

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* ASU 33: One-yard run.

* ASU 32: Seven-yard run.

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* ASU 25: Three-yard run, 1st down.

* ASU 22: 10-yard run, 1st down.

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* ASU 4: Two-yard run, 1st down.

* ASU 2: Two-yard run, touchdown.

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Drive ends with 4:29 to play.


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