Marqise Lee showed up in coach Lane Kiffin’s office 45 minutes before kickoff with swollen cheeks and irritated eyes from an allergic reaction.
Between the star receiver’s overinflated face and last week’s underinflated footballs, Southern California desperately needed a pressure-releasing victory.
With Lee’s brilliance and a pumped-up defensive performance, the Trojans got it.
Lee caught 10 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, Curtis McNeal rushed for 163 yards and two more scores, and No. 19 USC bounced back from consecutive losses with a 38-17 victory over skidding Arizona State on Saturday.
Matt Barkley threw for 222 yards and three TDs while becoming the leading passer in conference history for the Trojans (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12), who overcame a slow start and five turnovers with 24 consecutive points in the second half. USC hasn’t lost three straight since 2001, former coach Pete Carroll’s first season.
”We knew we needed that,” said Barkley, who passed Carson Palmer for his latest record despite also throwing three interceptions. ”The defense was playing well, and after we made some adjustments, we shut them down. That’s really what we needed.”
USC, No. 21 in the AP rankings, yielded a school-record 730 yards to No. 3 Oregon in a 62-51 loss last Saturday and endured a midweek distraction when a student manager was fired for underinflating footballs on the Ducks’ sideline. The Trojans needed to clear the air and get a boost of confidence before finishing the regular season against No. 18 UCLA and No. 4 Notre Dame.
Kiffin emphasized the bright side of the Trojans’ woes this week: With two more Pac-12 wins, they could earn the South division crown and a spot in the title game. After rallying past Arizona State, only the crosstown Bruins are in their way.
”We did make sure that everybody knew where we were at, what was at stake,” Kiffin said. ”Really, we were in a two-game playoff for the Pac-12 South. We know what our standards are, so we understood what we had to do.”
After getting a few boos on the way to the locker room at halftime, the Trojans blew past Arizona State, outgaining the Sun Devils 447-250. What’s more, the FBS’ most-penalized team was flagged just four times for 30 yards.
Lee caught an 80-yard TD pass and rushed for 66 yards during the seventh 10-catch day of his spectacular sophomore season – and he even lined up at safety briefly in another do-it-all performance. He wasn’t sure if he’d play at all when he woke up with a swollen face, a product of periodic allergic reactions he can’t explain.
”My allergies are messed up, but I’m fine now,” said Lee, who got ice on his face before the game and a bag of IV fluids at halftime. ”I just have flare-ups. I’ve got to figure it out. … I didn’t let it affect me out there, though.”
Lee and the Trojans thrived on offense with little help from two key players. All-American receiver Robert Woods had two catches for minus-3 yards, while leading rusher Silas Redd watched the game in uniform from the sideline.
Taylor Kelly passed for 174 yards and Alden Darby returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown for the Sun Devils (5-5, 3-4), who lost their fourth straight. Arizona State managed season-lows in yards and points, scoring all of its points off USC’s turnovers and getting shut out in the final 27 minutes.
Although Todd Graham has replaced Dennis Erickson on the sideline, Arizona State is in much the same late-season spiral as last year, when the Sun Devils dropped five straight.
”The defense gave us an opportunity, but the offense has got to pick it up,” Sun Devils left tackle Evan Finkenberg said. ”I think it’s just personal pride. We’ve got a lot of seniors on this team, and we want to send them out the right way. We’ve all really bought into this season.”
McNeal and Xavier Grimble also caught TD passes from Barkley, who needed just two plays to pick up the yards necessary to pass Palmer’s USC and Pac-12 record of 11,818 yards passing. The four-year starter already holds the USC records for touchdown passes, completions and total offense along with several single-game superlatives.
The Trojans’ earliest home kickoff since 1998 didn’t appear to suit them, however. Lee fumbled at the end of the 17-yard catch on USC’s first play, and Kelly hit Chris Coyle for a 34-yard score moments later.
Barkley hit Lee in stride down a seam for an 80-yard TD late in the first quarter – but after Arizona State’s Rashad Ross fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Barkley threw an interception at the Arizona State 2.
Barkley’s second interception was even more costly. After an apparent touchdown pass to Woods was wiped out by pass interference, Darby lunged to pick off the risky screen pass by Barkley, somehow gathered himself without falling and ran 70 yards for a score.
Barkley’s first pass after halftime also was intercepted, but only on a spectacular play by backup linebacker Carl Bradford, who deflected Barkley’s pass and dived to snag it. Arizona State went up 17-14, but the Trojans moved back ahead with McNeal’s first rushing TD of the season.
McNeal then caught a 22-yard TD pass from Barkley late in the quarter, slaloming through the Arizona State defense. Lee turned a broken end-around play into a 38-yard gain in the fourth quarter, setting up a field goal.
Leonard Williams and Lamar Dawson had interceptions in the final minutes, and McNeal rushed for a 27-yard TD run with 38 seconds to play.