Dennis Erickson has been around college football for a long time, so when the Arizona State coach called Saturday night’s game between the Sun Devils and USC “crazy,” it meant something.
There were two long interceptions returned for touchdowns, a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, a blocked punt and most importantly a blocked extra point that the Trojans returned for a score.
All that set the stage for Joe Houston’s 29-yard game-winning field goal with 3:06 left to play as USC downed Arizona State, 34-33, in the wildest game the venerable Coliseum or the 68,744 in attendance could recall in recent memory.
“The game was as crazy as they get,” Erickson said. “There are 1,000 things that could have made a difference.”
Quarterback Matt Barkley threw three touchdowns and linebacker Malcolm Smith returned a Steven Threet interception 74 yards for a touchdown for the Trojans (6-3, 3-3 Pac-10), but it was Houston the hero after missing two field goals earlier in the game.
USC drove 68 yards in nine plays, largely on the legs of running back Marc Tyler who rushed for 47 of his 119 yards to set up the game-winning try.
Houston admitted he was nervous after earlier missing from 27 and 35 yards, his first kick striking the right upright.
“I’m human,” said Houston, who is just 6 of 12 on field goal attempts this season. “I was anxious, but I believe in myself and my teammates. The team put me in the position to succeed, I just did my job.”
Arizona State (4-5, 2-3 Pac-10) had a chance to respond, but Thomas Weber’s 42-yard kick hooked wide left to avoid cornerback Shareece Wright.
Coaches and players had cautioned all week against a letdown after hosting No. 1 Oregon, but still almost fell victim to letting the Ducks beat them twice.
“I thought we played all right,” Tyler said. “The energy was a little down coming off of last week but we hung in there and got the win.”
The Trojans had plenty of chances to put the game away with Barkley throwing an interception in the end zone in the second quarter and USC later squandering a 15-point lead by allowing LeQuan Lewis to return a kick 100 yards for a score and having a second Barkley interception tipped and returned 66 yards for a touchdown by Sun Devils corner Omar Bolden.
“We gave them so many opportunities,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Barkley completed 26 of 37 passes for 215 yards, throwing touchdowns to Tyler, David Ausberry and Stanley Havili. Tyler led the team with five receptions for 32 yards, while Brice Butler caught three passes for 49 yards.
As the offense struggled once again, notably going 4 of 15 on third down, the Trojan defense picked up the slack, intercepting Threet twice and largely containing the Sun Devils outside of a 54-yard double pass on the opening play of the game.
“We did a solid job,” Smith said. “We were ready to play and the (defensive backs) really executed the plan. We knew what to expect and we did a better job putting the locks on them.”
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