Joe McKnight has arrived. And standing right beside him is a 19-year-old that became the starting quarterback a little over three weeks ago, Matt Barkley. The two piled all of their teammates, the 5,000 USC fans in attendance, and the rest of the Trojan nation on their shoulders Saturday night for the best fourth quarter game-winning drive since Leinart and Jarret deflated the Irish hopeful in the 2005 South Bend thriller.
But what separates this drive from all others is the fact that it was led by a true freshman in front of the largest crowd to ever fill the storied Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio. Over 105,000 rabid Buckeye fans turned stunned as on 2nd and 19 and backed up in their own territory, McKnight ran between the Trojan tackles for a 10-yard gain.
Then Barkley hit him on the run to convert the 3rd and 9 play.
The very next play, Barkley put the Trojans on the Buckeye 38 with a perfect pass to tight end Anthony McCoy, who took sandwich hits from two Ohio State DB's and still hung on for a great gain.
The drive chewed up the clock, with McKnight carrying the ball with speed, style, grace, and power. Showing why people have drawn comparisons to Reggie Bush, he dodged, dipped, and juked his way in off-tackle runs. But twice on the final drive, McKnight ran between the tackles heavy over Buckeye backers, dropping his head and leveling huge hits of his own.
And let's not forget that Barkley had two fourth down QB sneaks to keep the drive moving.
The drive was finally capped by a 2-yard touchdown by Stafon Johnson, his second of the game. With only 1:05 left on the clock, the Buckeyes just didn't have enough gas left in the tank to rally a comeback drive, and the game ended as the Trojans' defense forced a turnover on downs with 0:24 left to play.
This game was far from perfect, from any angle, for either team. There were two interceptions, the first coming on Ohio State's first drive of the game, and also a bad snap over first year punter Brian O'Malley for USC that resulted in a safety.
It seemed at times that the Trojans were just camping outside their own goal-line, losing the field position battle miserably. Yet each time the Buckeyes started at midfield, Gallipo, Griffen, Mays, Smith, and Morgan were there to hold Ohio State out of the end zone.
There's a ton to say about a lot of players from the game. McKnight was stellar. Damian Williams continues to shine as the Trojans go-to receiver, and Chris Gallipo played a great game in the center of the USC defense.
And while Joe McKnight would clearly get my vote for the player of the game, there's something quite special that's brewing on this Trojan team in Matt Barkley. He is a rare talent indeed.
As Chris Gallipo said in the post game interviews, "I'm not sure that Carson, Leinart, or Sanchez, that any of them could've done what he did here as a freshman." It looked as if this young phenom was impossible to rattle; even after suffering his own Sam Bradford-esque shoulder compression, he winced, and battled right through it.
USC has a rough road schedule ahead, but if you believe in trial by fire, Matt Barkley just passed his first big test with a win in college football's best out of conference match-up this season.