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USC pulls away from Arizona State for 38-17 win

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- Curtis McNeal ran for 163 yards and scored three touchdowns as USC overcame quarterback Matt Barkley's three interceptions to beat Arizona State 38-17 before 80,154 at the Coliseum on Saturday.

Barkley, a one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner, now has 13 interceptions, nearly twice as many as last season. But he really only mirrored the rest of the Trojans, who came out sluggish and trailed much of the first half.

Perhaps it was a hangover from last week's thrilling loss to Oregon. But it was still a victory and meant USC can advance to the Pacific-12 Conference title game with a victory over UCLA next week.

"For whatever reason, we were just a little bit off," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "I really believe games like this can be hard, sandwiched between a national game (against Oregon) and a crosstown rivalry (with UCLA)."

The No. 19 Trojans (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) finally overcame their sluggishness in the third quarter and led 28-17 after McNeal took a short pass and turned it into a 22-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left.

It was the first comfortable lead of the day for the Trojans, who did not even have a lead until McNeal's 5-yard touchdown run with 8:49 left in the third quarter put them up 21-17.

Arizona State kicker Jon Mora's 28-yard field goal gave the Sun Devils (5-5, 3-4) a 17-14 advantage early in the third quarter. The drive started when defensive end Carl Bradford tipped and intercepted Barkley's pass. It was Barkley's third interception of the game.

"You never want those picks," Barkley said. "Just some weird situations."

Barkley completed 20 of 33 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns, along with his three interceptions.

Even weirder, wide receiver Robert Woods caught just two passes for minus-3 yards. Kiffin said he tried to get Woods more passes because he sensed his wide receiver was demoralized.

"There was a couple plays where he was trying to get me the ball," Woods said. "I'm just trying to run my routes and, if it doesn't happen, block."

Wide receiver Marqise Lee suffered an allergic reaction 45 minutes before kickoff and had swollen eyes but team doctors aided him and he played like usual, with 10 receptions for 161 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 66 yards on six carries.

"It might have been something I ate," Lee said. "But Coach Kiffin was motivating me to play."

The Trojans immediately answered with McNeal scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run to make it 21-17 with 8:49 left in the third.

Arizona State opened the scoring on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to Chris Coyle with 10:51 left in the first quarter.

The Trojans finally came to life when Barkley found Lee behind the defense for an 80-yard touchdown pass with 1:36 left in the first quarter to tie the game, 7-7.

On the ensuing kickoff, USC recovered a fumble but Barkley's pass was intercepted to end the drive.

Arizona State safety Alden Darby returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Sun Devils a 14-7 lead with 11:15 left in the second quarter. The Trojans tied the game on Barkley's 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Xavier Grimble with 35 seconds left in the half.

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 19 of 30 passes for 174 yards with three interceptions and one touchdown.

"Obviously it's very disappointing for us," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "We faced unbelievable adversity, turning the ball over in our own end. We've lost four straight but I'm proud of the character of the team."

NOTES: Barkley broke the Pac-12 record for passing yards in the first quarter. Barkley said he was unaware USC deflated footballs for the Oregon last week, which resulted in a $25,000 fine by the Pac-12. ... Lee had at least 100 receiving yards for the seventh time this season and 11th in his career. Lee also had at least 10 receptions for a school-record eighth time. ... McNeal rushed for 100 yards for the sixth time in his career and second time this season. ... USC starting tailback Silas Redd did not play because of a sprained ankle. ... A representative from the Sun Bowl attended the game.
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