Two nights after the champion Pittsburgh Steelers jumped-started the NFL season with a dramatic 13-10 overtime decision over the Tennessee Titans when Jeff Reed drilled a 33-yard field goal and 10:28 left in the extra period, the third-ranked USC Trojans traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for a showdown with the eighth-ranked Buckeyes.
After what happened last Saturday before a record crowd of 106,033, there is now a Drive II.
The first was the trek Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway led against the Cleveland Browns in an AFC playoff game.
This time, it was true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, who marched the Trojans 86 yards for the game-winning score that was capped off when running back Stafon Johnson scored from two yards out and 1:05 left, and gave the Trojans an 18-15 victory.
Barkley is only one year removed from playing high school football at Mater Dei in Orange County.
Now he’s trying to lead USC (2-0) to a third national title under Head Coach Pete Carroll’s nine-year reign.
“We don’t have many games like this,’’ said Carroll. “We didn’t think we were going to lose at any time.”
The game was tied, 10-10, at the intermission, and the Buckeyes (1-1) even had a 15-10 lead deep in the fourth quarter, but all of this didn’t matter in the end.
It would be unfair to compare the 19-year-old Barkley with the veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
But the two now share in having led his team to late-game heroics. It was in last season’s Super Bowl that the Steelers needed a long drive after falling behind the underdog Arizona Cardinals.
No one who saw that battle will forget the game-clinching pass from Roethlisberger to wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Barkley may not be Roethlisberger right now, but he’s doing a fine imitation.
Johnson’s first scoring run was a one-yard blast, and gave the Trojans a 7-0 lead with 11:37 left in the first quarter. Johnson had 50 yards on 11 carries, and Joe McKnight had 60 yards on 16 rushes.
But it was Barkley who had the crowd buzzing, and not because his numbers were so staggering.
Barkley hit 15 of 31 attempts for 195 yards, with one interception, but it was the final drive that separated him from Ohio State sophomore signal-caller Terrelle Pryor.
Early in the first quarter, Pryor was intercepted by linebacker Chris Galippo, who returned the ball deep inside Buckeye territory, and set up Johnson’s short scoring run.
Pryor found the target on 11 of 25 passes for 177 yards, and also added 36 yards on 10 rushes. Not bad, but we can only judge him on the end result.
On Thursday at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger was up to his usual antics, as he connected on 33 of 43 passes for 363 yards, including one touchdown and two interceptions.
Roethlisberger’s 30-yard pass to wide receiver Heinz Ward late in the fourth quarter, could have won the game in regulation. But Ward had the ball stripped at the five-yard line.
“I just wanted to go out and redeem myself,’’ said Ward, who caught eight passes for 103 yards. “I’m a play maker.”
When Big Ben found Holmes for a 34-yard scoring pass and 1:22 left in the second quarter, the Steelers took a 7-0 lead.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.