USC learned last week that the game isn't over until the final whistle and it put that to the test once again Saturday night.
Despite three touchdowns and a career-high 208 yards rushing from Buck Allen, the Trojans needed a stuffed two-point conversion with just over a minute remaining and a missed 36-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining to defeat the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats 28-26 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
Allen gave the Trojans a comfortable 28-13 lead when he punched a run in from a yard out near the end of the third quarter. But Arizona owned the fourth quarter.
Down both starting cornerbacks after Kevon Seymour and Adoree' Jackson both exited with injuries, USC had to turn to freshmen Jonathan Lockett and John Plattenburg. Redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins was also thrust from a nickel cornerback role to the Trojans' lockdown man on the outside.
The Wildcats took advantage of the matchups with their tall, athletic receivers and basically abandoned the running game. Instead, Anu Solomon slung the ball all over the field. On their first drive starting in the fourth quarter, Arizona was able to march down the field in 2:55 going 85 yards on nine plays. The big hitter came from running back Jared Baker, who scored on a 41-yard pass play when USC blew a coverage on a wheel route out of the backfield, trimming USC's lead to 28-20.
Trailing by eight, Arizona got the ball with 3:27 remaining and drove the ball down the field, attacking the matchups of receivers Austin Hill, Cayleb Jones and Trey Griffey against Lockett and Hawkins. The Wildcat trio of receivers combined for eight catches on the drive and Baker finished it off with a one-yard touchdown run.
Needing a two-point conversion to tie, Arizona tried to fire a slant to Jones. The pass sailed high, but Chris Hawkins was called for pass interference, moving the ball to the 1-yard line. Rather than sticking with the short passing game that had stampeded the ball down the field, the Wildcats tried Baker up the middle. Instead of the end zone, Baker met the giant arms of USC All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
"I wasn't really sure what they were going to call, but I just knew what we were going to call and I knew we had to execute," Williams said. "Arizona's a great team, but it's about us."
On the outside, Hawkins said he was "very surprised" Arizona decided to try to run. The Wildcats averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 29 rushes.
"Cayleb Jones, he was their guy all day. I was expecting a fade or a slant by him," Chris Hawkins said. "I was geared down with my eyes on him, but once he didn't really run a route, I looked inside and saw all of our guys on top of their guys.
"Leonard and the whole d-line made a heck of a play and I'm glad it happened that way."
Williams finished with eight tackles on the defensive line -- one behind Gerald Bowman and Hayes Pullard for the USC team high. He also added two sacks and forced a red zone fumble that was recovered by the Trojans.
With USC games in 2014, the game is never over though. Thanks to a great super bounce that went through the hands of JuJu Smith and was snatched out of the air by a leaping Cayleb Jones (once again), Arizona recovered an onside kick and was back in business with 1:00 remaining. The Wildcats also had tremendous field position, starting on USC's 47-yard line.
A pair of catches by David Richards, who finished with seven receptions for 61 yards, pushed Arizona down to the 22-yard line. A three-yard rush and two incomplete pass attempts on deep balls for Jones that were defended quite well by Jonathan Lockett set up a 36-yard field goal by Casey Skowron.
Skowron had earlier had a field goal blocked right before halftime. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian had called a timeout to ice Skowron and then USC defensive lineman Claude Pelon swatted the kick with his right hand.
With 17 seconds remaining, Sarkisian again used a timeout to try to ice Skowron. The redshirt junior got an opportunity to kick a practice attempt when the whistle was blown and he nailed it right through the uprights, but when the money was on the line, following the timeout, Skowron pushed it right.
The Trojans took a knee and escaped Arizona Stadium with a 28-26 victory.
In the first half, it was the Buck Allen show for USC.
"Two weeks ago, I challenged him after the Oregon State game," Steve Sarkisian said. "He needs to be better in the open field because he can be. I know what he's capable of. Sure enough, the last two weeks, it's shown up. He's making safeties miss."
Allen did just that on both of his first-half touchdowns, breaking through the line of scrimmage and then making second- and third-level defenders miss. His first touchdown run went 34 yards in the first quarter to put USC up 7-3. Allen topped that with a 48-yard run in the second quarter that pushed the lead to 14-6, which it would remain through halftime.
The Trojans gave themselves some extra cushion with the first drive of the second half. It took them 11 plays and 5:43 to go 75 yards. Cody Kessler hit a very open Nelson Agholor in the middle of the field for a 21-yard touchdown pass that made it 21-6. Agholor finished with seven catches and a game-high 81 yards. The teams traded touchdowns later in the third quarter, setting up Arizona's fourth quarter dominance, but ultimate let down.
Anu Solomon finished with 395 yards passing and one touchdown on 72 passing attempts (43 completions) while Cody Kessler's numbers were much more sublime: 20-for-30 for 185 yards and one touchdown. Arizona snapped Kessler's consecutive pass attempts without an interception (195) when Jonathan McKnight picked off his second quarter pass attempt.
***It wasn't just the defensive secondary that got banged up. Defensive tackle Delvon Simmons got his ankle rolled up and was examined, but went back in. Fullback Soma Vainuku strained his hamstring on a kickoff. Offensive lineman Aundrey Walker also limped off and had to be replaced by Zach Banner at one point, but he did return.