CORVALLIS, Ore. — They threw it deep again, Marqise Lee sprinting, Nelson Agholor shedding, Cody Kessler winging, their expressions stuck on wow.
They ran it hard again, eight times on one touchdown drive, half the field on one touchdown run, and all at once now, everyone say hello to Javorius Allen.
They played swaggering defense again, blocking a field goal, picking off a pass in the end zone, enraging nearly 50,000 hostile witnesses with gestures and joy.
On the day after Halloween, against an opponent dressed like pumpkins, the USC football team shed its disguise of the last two seasons and became Trojans again.
Finally breaking free of the distractions and dissension that surrounded former coach Lane Kiffin, USC rediscovered its trademark mix of passion and precision Friday night in a 31-14 victory over Oregon State at sagging Reser Stadium.
“Yeahhh,” croaked interim Coach Ed Orgeron. “I loooove it!”
It wasn’t so much a game as a redemptive scene from Fright Night Lights, the Trojans overcoming the obstacles of a dwindling roster and unsettled future by ending the monthlong post-Kiffin hangover with a howl.
They won here for the first time in nine years. They shut down the country’s best passing offense with three interceptions. They scored four touchdowns against a previously 6-2 team that had just held mighty Stanford to three.
And, oh yeah, between the third and fourth quarters, with the Reser Stadium loudspeakers playing a hard-driving rap song in hopes of inspiring the locals, the USC defenders held a dance party on the field that spread to the sideline, the entire Trojans team bumping and swaying to their renewed heartbeat.
“We want to have fun, we want to be loose, we want to play as a team, and, of course, we want to play well,” said Orgeron. “We put it all together tonight.”
In the game’s final moments, the excited Orgeron was shouting so loud, you could hear him from the top steps of the stands. When it ended, Orgeron gathered his players around him for a unique postgame pep talk.
They lifted him up. He ordered them to put him down. He then asked them to turn around and stare at the stands of the aging stadium that had spent the last couple of hours shaking.
He wanted them to see the mostly vacant seats, a tangible sign of domination, the Trojans having sent the Oregon State fans scurrying into the cool night.
“We heard a lot about us coming in here and not being successful,” said Orgeron. “Our whole goal was to win the game and see the stands empty. I wanted them to learn you can overcome any obstacle.”
All in all, the Trojans played with the sort of bubbly inspiration not seen since they beat UCLA 50-0 nearly two years ago. They were never this loose during last season’s pressure-filled fall from their preseason No. 1 ranking, and they were never this effective during this year’s dreadful Kiffin watch.
During their first three games under Orgeron, they went 2-1 with some mediocrity and restraint. Then Friday, finally, in the shadow of rolling Pacific Northwest hills, it was as if they took their first breath of fresh air in forever.
“This is way different,” linebacker Hayes Pullard said when asked to compare the atmosphere to the start of this season. “It’s a different vibe.”
The Throwback Trojans appeared in the game’s very first moments, as they ended Oregon State’s first drive with a blocked field-goal attempt, by guess who? Yep, it was defensive leader Leonard Williams, again anchoring the nation’s 11th-ranked defense.
They then scored on their first offensive play, a 71-yard pass play to guess who? Yeah, Lee rose from the disabled list to break free on a pick play and found himself wide open at the 25-yard line, where he caught Cody Kessler’s pass and sprinted happily home.
Lee had his most dazzling game of an injury-dulled season, catching five balls for 105 yards and that touchdown. He was so thrilled to have at least temporarily overcome his knee problems that he was the last Trojan to leave the field, as he shook hands and posed for photos with seemingly any fan who asked.
“This is the way the game should be played,” Orgeron said.
The Trojans took an early 14-0 lead, two quick Sean Mannion passes made it 14-7, then suddenly the game was tied after Ryan Murphy picked off a wild pass from Kessler and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown with 9:29 remaining in the second quarter.
It was Trojans’ moment of truth. Was this really a renewal?
The old-time USC folks will love what happened next, as offensive coordinator Clay Helton rolled out a plan that resulted in a 10-play drive that featured eight bruising running plays. The final 18 yards of the drive were covered by Allen for his second of three touchdowns, giving him five in the four games since Kiffin’s firing.
The redshirt sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., had disappeared under the old regime, but was pulled out off mothballs in Orgeron’s new culture that encourages new directions and different looks. You think he needs to keep getting those looks?
“We just wanted to fly around with a lot of energy,” said safety Josh Shaw, who intercepted that second-quarter Mannion pass in the end zone.
With four games remaining in what was once considered a lost season, with the new Trojans having rediscovered the old Trojans, USC football is indeed again airborne.