Just Hand the Football to Otton
By Joe Villinski
LOS ANGELES — USC quarterback Brad Otton wanted the ball all game.He wanted the ball after leaving the game in the first quarter due toreaggravating a bruised sternum and ribs. He would then desire the pigskinagain at the game’s conclusion.
The ball had become more desirable mainly because of what Otton did with itafter reentering the game in the third quarter. The senior, in his lastcollegiate game, engineered a Trojan comeback, throwing for 143 yards on11-21 passing in the second half, to lead USC past rival Notre Dame 27-20in overtime.
When USC linebacker Matt Cusano knocked down Irish quarterback Ron Powlus’last ditch pass, Otton took off after the ball with one recipient in mind:head coach John Robinson.
“I was just trying to get the game ball,” Otton said. “I nearly got myselfkilled diving after the game ball. I gave it to him (Robinson) andhopefully it will mean a lot to him.”
Not only did the game ball mean a lot, but also the win.
Robinson had been on the hot seat all week long after the Trojans droppedtheir fifth game of the year to UCLA the week before. Members of the LosAngeles media hinted that if Robinson could not come up with a win againstnemesis Notre Dame, it could be his last game.
Otton stood up for his coach both on the field Saturday night, and earlierin the week during practice.
“I love the media just as much as the next guy,” Otton added. “Butsometimes the media’s job is to create controversy and jump on stories. Asplayers, we watch the film every week and we saw we were just not executingon the field. It was not the play-calling and all of us as players had tostep forward and admit it.
“This game tonight, we wanted to win for ourselves, but every guy in thatroom will tell you this one was for coach Robinson.”
Otton could have kept that game ball if he wanted to. After Irishlinebacker Kory Minor leveled him on the sixth play of the game, Otton hadto be helped off the field, having reinjured a sternum and ribs heoriginally bruised against UCLA.
Without him, USC’s less-than-dynamic duo of Matt Koffler and Quincy Woodsproved to be inept. Vowing not to watch his team lose another game fromthe sidelines, Otton was injected with the necessary pain-killers athalftime, allowing him to participate.
“I went ahead and let the trainers make me into a pin cushion until thepain went away,” Otton said. Now, the only one subjected to pain would be the Irish.
Along with Delon Washington, Otton helped drive the Trojans 67 yards to tiethe score at 20 with 2:02 remaining. In overtime, Otton went 3-3,completing passes of 14 and 7 yards, then finding Rodney Sermons for a5-yard pass and the winning score.
Four Notre Dame plays later, Otton had his moment to remember amidst thepost-game madness.
“All the students came on the field and that was one of the greatestfeelings I’ve had in football,” Otton added.
Those feelings stem from the history of this rivalry. Otton saw first-handthree winless years himself and heard plenty more about the other ten.Now, Otton can tell others how he fought through his pain to ease the painat his alma mater.
“It’s been a frustrating year for all of us,” Otton said. “We wanted to beremembered as a Rose Bowl team, a national championship team, but we fellshort of that. But we’ll always be known as the team that beat Notre Dameand broke the streak. And that means a lot.”