The embattled Ohio State football program -- losers of five straight against elite programs -- made its stand. Saturday night was going to be the place where they bucked history and reclaimed some former glory in toppling No. 3 USC. Over 106,000 fans, most in Ohio Stadium history, made life hell for the visitors from sunny California. The Buckeye defense made stop after stop, harassing the Trojan run game and freshman quarterback Matt Barkley over four solid quarters. They made their stand, but in soul-crushing fashion, they once again failed.
Trailing 15-10 and looking ready to wilt, USC mounted a 14-play, 86-yard, six minute touchdown drive to go ahead 18-15 with just over a minute left. Same. Old. Story. Not enough.
The anatomy of a marque game between national powers:
Tressel Ball -- Ohio State played Tressel Ball to perfection, locking USC and its freshman quarterback in bad field position literally the entire evening. Chris Galippo's early interception aside, here was USC's starting position the rest of the game
Long fields every time out, absolutely amazing. From there Ohio State didn't relent, its defensive line neutralizing USC's offensive line, shutting things down on first down and forcing all kinds of punts.
Pryor's early interception was the Buckeyes' only turnover.
Classic Tressel Ball
Terrelle Pryor -- His numbers on Saturday weren't great, but make no doubt about it he's arrived. USC's defense was lights out nearly the entire night but had to play incredibly sharp to keep Pryor contained. He still snuck in several long passes totaling 177 yards on the night.
Pryor is so good that even when contained by a top five defense having a great night, he moved the ball and dominated in a role that has me calling him the Human Field Position Machine. In the absence of many touchdowns, he taxed the USC defense and played right into the hands of Tressel Ball in never offering USC a chance for a short field. When it clicks this guy might be better than Vince Young, capable of completely controlling all but the best defenses.
Matt Barkley -- USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley came into the game beaming, convinced he would not get distracted by the setting and the raucous crowd. In a postgame news conference he admitted to his ears still buzzing minutes later.
For most of the night he did little to help move USC's offense, but was a maestro at the end of both halves in guiding USC to a field goal and then what will go down this year as The Drive among USC fandom. Running back Joe McKnight did most of the heavy lifting on The Drive, but Barkley stayed poised in completing several third down passes and converting a fourth down run. Like Pryor he, too, has arrived after the 195 yard effort.
Of some interest, Barkley admitted that a fourth quarter hit 'jacked up' his shoulder and he was shown grimacing through the rest of the game but refused to be replaced. Its that kind of toughness that screams leadership and poise.
The Numbers -- Ohio State's defense deserves enormous credit Saturday, shutting USC's offense down for long stretches and embarrassing its vaunted offensive line. That said, USC's offense still outplayed Ohio State's. USC gained 18 first downs to 10, and had a 47 yard edge, 313 to 266. USC's defense allowed just 89 rushing yards, the Trojans themselves netting a modest 118.
The star for me was USC linebacker Chris Galippo. Even without his first quarter interception, Galippo was stellar, routinely displaying uncanny instincts arriving at several plays before they could materialize. Even in coverage where he was beat, he made two tremendous plays on perfectly thrown balls that otherwise would have gone incomplete. The guy deserves All America mention after his showing the last two weeks.
The Drive -- After the game, Barkley reportedly said of The Drive "We're Trojans, that's what we do." Sounds about right. On a night USC certainly should have lost and had shown little offensive life in the second half where they normally come to life, something clicked.
The clock read 7:29, ball on their own 14. It would be either their last or second to last possession, assuming they could even acquire a rare first down before giving the ball back to Pryor to grind more clock away while set up in great field position with a five point lead. The Trojans set about on a long drive, draining clock despite a five point deficit and unsure returns. Risky, and inevitably right.
Somewhere they summoned that uncanny poise the program's becoming famous for, a freshman leading the charge. It started off like much of the game, with a Barkley sack. Adding insult to injury, Barkley was tagged with a five-yard delay of game penalty, setting up second and 19. Joe McKnight took over from there, rushing for 11 yards and then beating a linebacker on third and eight for a 21-yard weaving reception.
Barkley, sensing some breathing room, found tight end Anthony McCoy 26 yards down field, lofting the ball between a pair of well-positioned defenders.
Two short plays set up another third and nine, and this time Barkley found Damian Williams for an eight-yard pass. Fourth and one, what else, a Barkley run for just over a yard, time ticking away. From there McKnight carried the day, mixing in runs of four, nine and eight yards setting up a third and two from the Ohio State six. Barkley once again answered the challenge, rushing four yards to the Ohio State two with under two minutes left.
The next play, USC's touchdown machine Stafon Johnson did the rest, rushing right for the clinching touchdown.