In the end, when the emotion wore off and positive developments weren't rewarded, it came down to talent.
USC revved up its ground game and capitalized on the superiority of its wide receivers to overwhelm Arizona State, 37-17, to virtually eliminate the Sun Devils from the Pac-10 football race before they started.
USC (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) had season highs in yards (529) and rushing (198) in outscoring the Devils 27-7 in the second half.
ASU had 366 yards, but 172 came in the first quarter when the Devils had a chance to make the 10th-ranked Trojans sweat in Sun Devil Stadium — and didn't.
"They were right there to break," observed Jamar Williams, ASU's sophomore linebacker. "And we didn't break them. Towards the end we didn't have enough."
ASU, which lost its third straight, led 17-10 after taking the second-half kickoff 80 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown.
But it took the Trojans less than three minutes to tie it again as freshman tailback LenDale White dashed 25 yards off left tackle into the end zone. In his first start, White rushed for 140 yards on 21 carries.
USC had only 99 yards on the ground last week in a loss to California, but even with starting tackle Winston Justice (ankle) at home, the Trojans were able to gash ASU's defensive front with the Devils having to do things to keep USC's big, fast receivers from running through the secondary.
Split receivers Mike Williams (108 yards) and Keary Colbert (100 yards) both hit the century mark and tight end Dominique Byrd had a 55-yard reception, in which he broke three tackles, to set up a 28-yard field goal by Ryan Killeen that took the wind out of ASU's sails, 27-17 with 11:48 left to play.
"The play action is what hurt us," ASU coach Dirk Koetter said of the Trojans' effective passing game.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart, who missed the final 12 minutes of the first half nursing a bad knee and groin, was 13-of-23 for 289 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
"I was really proud of Matt Leinart," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "I thought it was a fantastic effort to come back when he easily could have not finished that game. The coaches challenged him a little bit; he said that he was playing."
After the 80-yard drive to open the second half, the Devils totaled just 87 yards in their final six possessions.
"They started dropping their safety in the box, and that took away the running game," said ASU quarterback Andrew Walter, who was 19-of-38 for 305 yards, one touchdown and an interception. "They blitzed more and that affected the passing game. They made adjustments. You have to give them credit."
The Trojans went ahead for good when, on a fourth-and-1 at the ASU 33, Leinart flipped a pass in the flat to fullback Brandon Hancock, who after getting a crushing block from Colbert on reserve linebacker Barton Hammit, raced into the end zone for 24-17 lead.
USC's physical superiority was evident when the Devils, down 30-17, were given an opportunity to get a first down when USC was called for being offside while ASU was punting.
The five yards put ASU in a fourth-and-inches at its 29 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining. ASU tried its hurry-up bunch formation, but Trojans Melvin Simmons and Kenechi Udeze stuffed Hakim Hill (74 yards) in the backfield.
Six running plays, five by White, got the ball in the end zone for the final margin.
"We're a second-half team," Leinart said. "We always have been and we always will be. The defense answered the call, the offense answered the call and LenDale ran the ball awesome. The O-line was blocking, it was real good to see that in the second half."
ASU (2-3, 0-2) dusted off the hurry-up offense in the first half. The result was 172 yards — in the first quarter.
"We came out on fire that first quarter, the first half," said Regis Crawford, ASU's senior right guard. "I don't know what happened in the second half."
ASU didn't convert the yardage into touchdowns. ASU had the ball at the USC 34, 30, 8, and 39 but scored only 10 points.
"When you get in the red zone you have to put the ball in the end zone," Crawford said. "Just to show the defense you're to be reckoned with. If you don't, it's like giving them second wind."
Freshman Jesse Ainsworth missed an attempted field goal of 47 yards and USC forced an ASU punt after the Devils recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff at the Trojans’ 34.
ASU's defense had one key interception by safety Riccardo Stewart in its end zone and recovered two fumbles to limit the Trojans to 10 points in the first half.