COLUMBUS, Ohio - USC found itself in unfamiliar territory with 15 minutes left on the clock at Ohio Stadium Saturday night.
Instead of the USC second and third teams running down the clock, USC's stars needed to step up. The defense had to hold; the offense had to score.
Led by a freshman quarterback with no fear and a running back trying to escape his past, USC pulled off the huge win, defeating No.8 Ohio State 18-15 on a drive Trojan fans will talk about for years to come.
Trailing by five and victimized by devastatingly bad field position, USC and Matt Barkley walked to the line of scrimmage with 7:15 left in the game.
Barkley got sacked, pushing the team back. Then, a penalty cost USC five yards. Facing second-and-19 from the 5, USC grabbed the game by the throat and choked the life out of the Horseshoe.
Joe McKnight picked up big gains, Barkley tossed the ball with ease and even picked up a pair of first downs on quarterback sneaks. Finally, USC gave the ball to Stafon Johnson, and USC's closer scampered for the end zone, and ultimately, the win.
"You have to believe you're going to score in that situation," Barkley said. "I knew we were going to score."
The numbers from the drive go something like this: 14 plays, 86 yards, eight points, 6 minutes, 10 seconds off the clock and over 100,000 Ohio State fans stunned.
"It got quiet real quick," Damian Williams said. "We loved it. They were so loud the whole game, but we had to tune it out. It's a good feeling to hear something so loud get so quiet."
The last time the Trojans trailed at the start of the fourth quarter and won came in 2007, when USC rallied late to beat Arizona 20-13.
"We're fired up. It was great," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "I look it like so many different people contributed. Lot of guys did some great stuff. Joe did some fantastic stuff to end the game."
For McKnight, each week seems to give him some redemption for two seasons where he felt he underperformed.
Saturday, on one of college football's biggest stages, McKnight shined. On the Trojans' final drive, McKnight gained 53 all-purpose yards.
"He'd be the first to tell you that he graded his first two years as failing," Carroll said. "He missed out on the opportunities in really being serious and really being prepared, relative to how he looks at it now.
"... He's a different guy right now."
After USC's go-ahead touchdown, the USC defense slammed the door on Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes, disposing of them in four downs.
"We did everything we were supposed to do tonight," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "We played our butts off. I'm loving this."
The USC defense held Pryor to 36 yards rushing on 10 tries and to 177 yards through the air. Pryor completed only 11-of-25 passes with an interception and no touchdowns.
Barkley finished the game 15-of-31 for 195 yards with an interception, and Taylor Mays led USC with eight total tackles.
The game got off to a great start for USC, as the Trojans struck first by making the first big play of the night. Linebacker Chris Galippo intercepted a Pryor pass and returned it 51 yards down to the 2. Four plays later, Johnson pushed his way into the end zone for the game's first score.
Pryor rebounded from the pick to lead a six-play, 72-yard drive capped with a two-yard Dan Herron touchdown run. During the drive, Pryor started to move the Buckeyes through the air, completing a 56-yard pass to Dane Sanzenbacher on a slant over the middle.
Ohio State would get back into the red zone for a field goal early in the second quarter before being slowed down for the rest of the half.
While the Trojan offense gained some steam and ran 29 second-quarter plays, USC only managed three points. One drive ended after Barkley's first interception of the year and another long drive stopped when Jordan Congdon's 44-yard field goal try bounced short off the crossbar. Congdon would connect on a short chip right as the half ended, tying the score at 10.
The Trojans lived deep in their own half of the field for almost the entire third quarter, and the Ohio State defense amped up its pressure and forced the Trojans into situations with slim margins for error. But instead of executing, USC hurt itself.
The Trojans couldn't flip field position because of some short punts, and Cooper Stephenson compounded the special teams issues by snapping the ball over Billy O'Malley's head and out the back of the end zone for a safety.
Carroll said the safety wasn't a disaster, and actually, might have been a blessing.
"That safety didn't really mean that much to me. We were so backed up that it gave us a chance to free kick the ball out of there," Carroll said. "Sometimes you take a safety just to get out from under that situation. I wasn't flattened at all by that, but it could've been the winning margin."
But, it wasn't thanks to a memorable drive that gave USC a monstrous road win.
The Trojans won't have much time to come down after the trip to Columbus, with USC traveling to Seattle to face Steve Sarkisian and Washington next Saturday.
"That's my challenge right now, to bring us back down to Earth and put together a great week of preparation," Carroll said. "This is the best thing that could've happened to Washington. They know that, that maybe we'll get all caught up in the glow of this win.
"...This game gets nullified by not coming back and playing well next week."