USC fractures Northwestern fairy tale Johnson's 12 catches, 2 'Cats turnovers end storybook year, 41-32

Fumble returned 53 for TD

Rose Bowl was first for NW since 1949

Rose Bowl

January 02, 1996|By Ken Daley | Ken Daley,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

PASADENA, Calif. -- The fairy-tale ride of the Northwestern Wildcats came to an end yesterday. And the players in a program that went 47 years between Rose Bowl appearances might spend at least that long wondering what went wrong when their long-awaited day in the spotlight finally arrived.

In losing the 82nd Rose Bowl, 41-32, to 17th-ranked USC, the third-ranked Wildcats gave up a season-high scoring total that exceeded that of their last three opponents combined. They also committed an uncharacteristic two turnovers -- including a 53-yard fumble return by Daylon McCutcheon -- and missed two field-goal attempts.

But what hurt the normally unflappable Wildcats the most was their inability to contain All-America wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Johnson caught 12 passes for 216 yards, breaking the Rose Bowl record for receiving yardage (176) set by UCLA's J. J. Stokes last year against Wisconsin.

"Keyshawn Johnson was absolutely amazing," Northwestern coach Gary Barnett said. "We put our best players on him. It just wasn't enough."

The Wildcats' one-year turnaround from a 3-7-1 record and 23 consecutive losing seasons to a 10-1 finish and a Big Ten title captured the fancy of America. But before a largely purple Rose Bowl crowd of 100,102, the Cats fell behind 24-10 in the first half before mounting a furious comeback.

"We were definitely the straight men, but we're not now," said Trojans coach John Robinson, who has won all four of his Rose Bowl appearances. "This was one of the best football games I've ever been in. It was genuinely fun to be involved in."

Northwestern took its only lead of the game at 32-31, with 13:01 left in the fourth quarter, when tailback Darnell Autry scampered 2 yards for his third touchdown. But the Trojans went ahead to stay about four minutes later when redshirt freshman Adam Abrams connected on a 46-yard field goal.

USC led 34-32 with 9:09 to play. But the Trojans nearly did all they could to self-destruct. Of their nine second-half penalties, six greatly aided Northwestern drives.

An offsides on third-and-one gave the Wildcats a first down at their own 37 with 7 1/2 minutes left. But three plays later, Steve Schnur overthrew Matt Hartl in the face of a Trojans blitz and was intercepted by Jesse Davis, who returned it 41 yards to the Northwestern 31.

"I thought we had momentum the whole second half," Barnett said. "Once we threw the interception, we lost that."

Trojans quarterback Brad Otton engineered an eight-play drive that was capped by a 2-yard touchdown plunge by tailback Delon Washington. With 2:55 left, the Trojans were ahead 41-32.

The Wildcats made one last gasp, driving deep into Trojans territory before Schnur lofted a deep pass to the corner of the end zone. D'Wayne Bates made a leaping catch for an apparent touchdown with 1:07 left, but the score was nullified by a holding call.

"It was a great game," Barnett said. "We turned the ball over twice and we lost. We hadn't done that all year. You do that, you're not going to win in bowl games."

Faced with the task of cracking the nation's top-rated defense (12.7 points per game allowed), the Trojans opted for a no-huddle offense after the opening kickoff.

With Otton completing seven of eight passes, the Trojans moved swiftly to a 7-0 lead.

Northwestern answered with a touchdown drive culminating with Autry's 3-yard run.

USC seized a 14-7 lead with 13:05 left in the second quarter when Otton hit fullback Terry Barnum with a 21-yard touchdown pass. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, the Trojans already had scored more than the average offense against the Wildcats during Northwestern's stunning 10-1 regular season.

Northwestern felt the absence of injured All-America kicker Sam Valenzisi on its next drive. Sophomore replacement Brian Gowins missed a field-goal try of 37 yards.

Gowins had one more important chance with 35 seconds left. Northwestern was left with a fourth-and-10 from the USC 31 and went for the 49-yard field goal, hoping it could then convert its second onside kick of the game and press on for the winning TD.

Gowins had the distance this time, but the ball hit the upright.

The Wildcats' clock had finally struck midnight.

"Does it tarnish our season?" Barnett said, repeating a question. "Well, it's not what it could have been. It wasn't a fairy-tale season, but it was a great season."

Southern Cal 7 17 7 10 -- 41

Northwestern 7 3 16 6 -- 32

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