Making their case
USC finishes with impressive rout of Oregon State
Posted: Saturday December 6, 2003 10:03PM; Updated: Sunday December 7, 2003 1:14AM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Having made their points on the field, the USC Trojans stated their case for a trip to New Orleans and a shot at the national title.
"We deserve to go. We're 11-1 and we've been playing well the last couple of months. I think we've done as much as we can do. But it's not in our hands," Matt Leinart said Saturday after throwing for five touchdowns in the second-ranked Trojans' 52-28 victory over Oregon State.
The Trojans (11-1, 7-1 Pac-10) find out Sunday whether they go to the Sugar Bowl for the national title showdown, or stay home to play in the Rose Bowl. The national championship picture was thrown into chaos Saturday night, when top-ranked Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship and No. 3 LSU beat Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game.
Southern Cal was No. 2 behind Oklahoma in the BCS rankings heading into the Trojans' regular-season finale against Oregon State. The top two teams in the final BCS standings will meet in New Orleans on Jan. 4 for the national championship.
"We have everything you want for a national championship game," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "You have a big, exciting offense and a tough defense."
Leinart believes the Trojans are in a no-lose situation.
"We get to go to the Rose Bowl; that's the worst that could happen to us," the quarterback said.
Sugar Bowl chairman John Busenlener won't have any say in who plays in the game, but he obviously wouldn't mind having the high-scoring Trojans there.
"They're a team with a lot of talent," said Busenlener, at the Coliseum to watch the win over Oregon State. "I'm really impressed with their receivers, and their balanced offense, defense, and tonight, special teams.
"We had a lot of people asking us today about hotel reservations and places to eat in New Orleans."
Oregon State (7-5, 4-4) will play New Mexico in the Dec. 24 Las Vegas Bowl.
The Trojans' depth and versatility on both sides of the ball were more than the Beavers could handle.
"I do believe USC belongs in the Sugar Bowl," said Oregon State coach Mike Riley, a former Trojans' assistant. "I'd love to see them in it."
USC scored 40 or more points for the seventh game in a row and finished the regular season with a Pac-10 record 506 points. Leinart established a conference single-season mark with 35 touchdown passes.
Mike Williams had two touchdowns catches, one a leaping, one-handed grab in the back of the end zone. He also got a hand on an Oregon State field-goal try that fell short, and made a crushing block on a run by Reggie Bush.
Bush, a freshman, also caught two touchdown passes. Steve Smith, another freshman, had 136 yards on five catches, including a 73-yard touchdown.
Defensively, Will Poole made two interceptions, returning one 67 yards for a touchdown, and Lofa Tatupu had USC's other two interceptions.
Leinart went 22-of-38 for 278 yards and threw scoring passes of 14, 30, 9, 3 and 73 yards.
In the first quarter, he threw his first interception in two months, ending a Pac-10 record streak of 212 passes without being picked off. He threw another interception in the third quarter, which Brandon Browner returned 31 yards for a touchdown.
A redshirt sophomore who hadn't thrown a collegiate pass until this fall, Leinart finished the regular season with 3,229 yards passing, with 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Carson Palmer threw for 3,639 yards and 35 TDs, with 10 interceptions last season when he won the Heisman.
Derek Anderson completed 34 of 60 for 485 yards and two touchdowns, but threw four interceptions for the mistake-prone Beavers. Mike Hass had eight receptions for 208 yards.
Steven Jackson, averaging a conference-high 121.3 yards rushing per game, was held to 62 yards on 22 carries.
The Trojans led 28-14 at halftime, with the Beavers closing the gap on Anderson's 22-yard scoring pass to Tim Euhus six seconds before halftime to cap an 80-yard drive that took only 1:02.
Oregon State got no closer in the second half.
Leinart and Williams accounted for two of the Trojans' first-half touchdowns. Williams made his leaping catch on a 9-yard pass for a 28-7 lead with 1:08 left in the second quarter.
In the first half, the Beavers committed three turnovers, had two field goals and a punt blocked in the first half.