Columbus, Ohio - In 2005, the USC Trojans broke hearts all over South Bend with a last-second scoring drive led by a cool California quarterback named Matt and a flashy tailback with electric moves.
That night it was Leinart and Bush supplying the heartache, tonight in Columbus it was McKnight and Barkley.
After struggling to put points on the board all game, Matt Barkley jogged to the huddle trailing 15-10 with 7:15 left on the clock, 86 yards away from a win and never flinched.
“You really have to believe you’re going to score in that situation,” Barkley said. “I knew we were going to score.”
After a quarterback sack and a false start penalty the Trojans quickly found themselves backed up to their own 5 yard-line, with the game appearing to slip away with every tick of the clock.
The Trojans looked to Joe McKnight and he responded in heroic fashion.
McKnight took a handoff of the right side and raced 11 yards to bring up a critical third-and-8 play from the 16. Barkley then took the snap, dropped back and hit McKnight over the middle on an option route for a 21-yard gain that gave the Trojans a fresh set of downs and just the spark they needed.
Barkley came up with another big gain on the very next play, lofting a perfectly placed pass to tight end Anthony McCoy for a 26-yard gain.
After three short gains Matt Barkley took the snap on 4th-and-1 at the 28, lowered his shoulder and bulled his way forward for a 2-yard gain.
At this point, the 106, 033 Ohio State faithful in the stands started to sense another big game slipping out of their grasp but did their best to rattle Barkley.
“It was really loud,” Barkley said. “I think my ears are still ringing a bit…but the noise didn’t affect the way we played.”
The Trojans called on McKnight again, handing him the ball three times on the next four plays and he responded by rushing for 20 and taking the Trojans inside the ten.
“Joe McKnight highlighted the last drive for us and it took every play and every guy on our team,” Carroll said.
Once the Trojans got near the goal-line senior Stafon Johnson took care of the rest, bouncing a run outside and into the end zone for the game-winning score.
“Ohio State’s defense did a great job and it took every second to get it done,” Carroll said.
Johnson scored both of the Trojans touchdowns and finished the night with 50 yards on eleven carries.
It takes most college quarterbacks four years to come up with a defining moment but Matt Barkley has one after just two weeks on the job.
“Matt was composed. He stayed cool, calm and collected,” McKnight said. “He stepped up and made plays.”
The freshman signal caller completed 15-of-31 attempts on the night for 195 yards and an interception in one of the most hostile road environments in college football.
“He didn’t play like a freshman,” said middle linebacker Chris Galippo, who set up the Trojans’ first score with a 51-yard interception return down to the 2. “I’ve never played in an environment this hostile before, but he stepped up and proved that he’s the man.”
Barkley said he learned a few lessons from Saturday’s game-winning drive.
“I learned it really is fun,” he said with a grin. “I learned I just have to trust my guys.”
And the nation learned tonight that the Trojans’ are led by an unusually gifted freshman.