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December 27, 2009SAN FRANCISCO - There were the off-the-field distractions like Joe McKnight's status and the ineligibility of three players because of academics. There were questions about motivation.
And on the field, there were good things and bad, touchdowns and turnovers, playmakers and penalties, hits and misses.
But in the end, the only thing that mattered on this rainy night by the Bay is that USC had won.
Thanks to a pass-heavy attack and a staunch defensive effort, the Trojans were able to defeat Boston College 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl at AT&T Park.
"We had an opportunity to play one more time, and we needed to do something good, to feel something good," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "There was a lot of distraction and a lot of adversity in the build up going into this game, most of it self-inflicted.
"I'm very happy we turned our focus and adjusted. We accomplished a lot of things internally by the way we focused given the season we had and looking ahead."
Damian Williams was named the game's Most Outstanding Offensive Player. He finished the game with 12 catches for 189 yards. Freshman Matt Barkley threw for 350 yards on 27-of-37 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Stanley Havili and Ronald Johnson also caught six passes each.
As Williams accepted the individual honor in the middle of the field, the USC fans chanted, "one more year." After the game, Williams said he still hasn't made up his mind.
"Right now, I'm still a Trojan until I say otherwise," he said.
Everson Griffen declared for the 2010 NFL Draft after the game had ended. McKnight didn't play in the game and wasn't available for comment after. Allen Bradford started in his place and rushed for 72 yards on 17 carries.
Despite the possibility of early defections and the loss of a large senior class, Carroll and his players viewed the bowl process as the beginning of something new and not as the end to a disappointing season.
"We need to work our way back to where we know we can get to," Carroll said. " We're not there. That was the conclusion coming out of this season. I challenged these guys to respond to that and take it to heart and look at thing differently...
"I think the seniors are happy that they sent us off on a new note with a new focus and a look to the future. The whole preparation (felt like the first step)."
USC got things going on its first drive. Using Bradford to soften up the defense, USC methodically got to midfield before Havili made the first big play of the game. Havili took a short pass, made the first defender miss and got a key block from Rhett Ellison on the way to a 53-yard touchdown reception.
Havili got into the end zone again on USC's next possession, catching a 5-yard pass from Barkley to put USC up 14-0.
But Boston College bounced right back. First, Montel Harris scored on a 7-yard run, but Boston College missed the extra point - Steve Aponavicius' first miss in his past 81 tries.
Then after a USC turnover and a costly pass interference penalty against Michael Morgan on third-and-long, the Eagles made USC pay. Dave Shinskie found Rich Gunnell on a short slant, and Gunnell outran the entire USC defense, for a 61-yard touchdown.
It was the longest pass play allowed by USC since the 2004 season.
USC added a third-quarter field goal from Jordan Congdon from 38 yards, but the Trojans missed out on a chance to go up seven when Congdon missed way short from 35 yards.
But USC finished strong, getting an interception from Shareece Wright followed up by a 48-yard pass to Williams down to the one-yard line. Barkley punched the ball in on the next play, and the USC defense held on for the win.
The Trojans held Boston College to just 91 yards of total offense in the second half, securing the victory.
"I mean, they're good," Shinskie said. "They're big and fast. It's still USC. They say it's a down year, but they're still playing in a bowl game."
And, they're leaving that bowl game with a win.
"This was fun," Williams said. "It was a lot of fun. It kind of felt like we had to prove something tonight. They're have been critics the whole season, especially towards the end. 'SC's not this; SC's not that. They're not the same team. It's the fall of Troy.'
"I think we proved tonight, that's not the case."
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