Reporting from Corvallis, Ore.
This time it wasn't close.
But on Saturday night, the Trojans could not even manage that.
Oregon State walloped No. 20 USC from start to finish en route to a 36-7 victory that continued the Beavers' recent dominance over the Trojans on their home turf.
On a chilly night in the Northwest, Oregon State built a 20-0 lead, knocked USC quarterback Matt Barkley out of the game because of a high ankle sprain just before halftime and cruised to its third consecutive home victory over the Trojans.
"I'm really shocked at the outcome of this game," USC Coach Lane Kiffin said. "Somehow, some way, it ended up like we always do up here. Down by 20."
The loss dropped USC to 7-4, ending designs on a 10-win season that might have lessened some of the hurt from NCAA sanctions that prevent the Trojans from playing in bowl games this season and next.
Oregon State might have been struggling -- the Beavers had lost consecutive games against UCLA and Washington State -- but Beavers Coach Mike Riley showed again that he knows how to master the Trojans.
"A team like that is always on the edge with that speed of making a big play," Riley said of USC, "and we just turned them back time and again. It was a great effort."
Riley put the ball in the hands of junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who gained 171 total yards and scored a touchdown, and, just as he did in 2006 with Matt Moore and 2008 with Lyle Moevao, Riley coaxed an impressive game from quarterback Ryan Katz, who passed for 154 yards and two touchdowns, without an interception.
Meantime, the Beavers' opportunistic defense shut down the Trojans and made big plays.
Cornerback Jordan Poyer intercepted a Barkley pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. Just before halftime, tackle Kevin Frahm provided the biggest blow when he sacked Barkley, putting the sophomore on crutches for the final half.
"The first half was just terrible," Barkley said.
At that point, USC had to like the alignment of the new Pacific 12 Conference, which will split teams into two divisions starting next season. USC is in the Southern Division, the Oregon schools in the Northern, which means the Trojans won't play Oregon State again until 2013.
USC has not won in Oregon since Sept. 24, 2005, when it beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium on the way to the Bowl Championship Series title game.
USC's lost weekend began Friday when tailback Dillon Baxter was declared ineligible for accepting a ride on a golf cart from a student who is a registered sports agent. It continued when what should have been a 30-minute bus ride from the airport to the team hotel turned into a two-hour traffic nightmare.
The Beavers led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter and 20-0 at halftime. With Mitch Mustain at quarterback, USC scored on a touchdown run by C.J. Gable in the third quarter, but Oregon State kept ripping through a Trojans' defense trying to offset the inadequacies of an offense that produced only 255 yards.
"They really kind of just beat us up," linebacker Malcolm Smith said.
Said Mustain, who completed eight of 17 for 60 yards: "Comebacks are always a good story. It just didn't swing our way."
Just as they did in their last three trips here, the Trojans played from behind.
In 2004, they overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit to beat the Beavers in the fog, but they needed an electrifying punt return by Reggie Bush to do it. They rallied and lost in 2006 and 2008, and this trip was much worse.
"We had no energy, we had no rhythm," said tailback Marc Tyler, who aggravated an ankle sprain in the second quarter. "We just didn't do nothin.'"
Things began to go wrong for the Trojans on their first possession, when USC looked as if it was driving toward a touchdown. On fourth and two at the Beavers' 26, Tyler carried and was awarded a generous spot to give the Trojans an apparent first down.
The spot, however, was reviewed and then reversed.
Oregon State went ahead on a Justin Kahut field goal with 30 seconds left in the first quarter, and then increased the lead to 10-0 on the first play of the second quarter when Poyer picked off Barkley's pass near the left sideline and ran it back for a touchdown.
"That play happens and you have the feeling of 'here we go again,' " Kiffin said. "And I'm sure everybody had that feeling."
So why has USC struggled in the state of Oregon?
"I have no idea. I don't know that anybody's figured it out," Kiffin said. "Coach [Pete Carroll] didn't figure it out and I haven't figured it out and none of our assistants do. We just come up here and they play really well against us and we help them out."