Trojans overcome losing before it becomes habit

Updated: October 6, 2003, 3:22 AM ET

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Count coach Pete Carroll among those who weren't quite sure how Southern California would rebound from its first loss in 12 games.

He needn't have worried.

The No. 9 Trojans, short on seniority and long on talent, responded to the courage of sophomore Matt Leinart and scored 27 points in the second half, rallying to beat Arizona State 37-17 Saturday.

"It was really one of my favorite games since I've been here," Carroll said. "Under the circumstances of losing last week with a young team and not knowing how they would respond, and then being up against it in the first half. It was a really difficult first half with all of the backed-up field positions, and we didn't make a critical mistake."

The game may herald the emergence of another generation of household names for the Trojans (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10). Leinart shook off a leg injury that forced him out of the game in the second quarter and returned after X-rays to his right knee and ankle to complete 13 of 23 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

In addition, freshman LenDale White picked up on USC's strong tailback tradition, gaining 140 yards in 21 carries and scoring on runs of 25 and 6 yards, and a defensive front already styled "Wild Bunch II" turned up the heat on Arizona State's Andrew Walter.

"It's big," said Kenechi Udeze, who was in on one of USC's five sacks and stopped Hakim Hill for no gain on fourth down with 7:33 remaining to snuff out the Sun Devils' last comeback chance. "You know, big-time quarterback, good pocket passer. We put pressure on him, kind of slowed him down and got him off whack."

Walter was 19-of-38 passing for 305 yards. He had a 12-yard scoring throw to Skyler Fulton in the first quarter and set up Loren Wade's 1-yard TD run in the third with a 24-yard pass to Derek Hagan. That earned the Sun Devils (2-3, 0-2) a 17-10 lead, but they found tough going the rest of the way.

White had gained 70 yards on 17 carries in five previous games.

"I'm not really worried about stats," he said. "I just wanted to come out and get a victory after we took a loss last week. I'm not really worried about playing tailback; I'm worried about winning."

Leinart, whose scoring passes covered 57 yards to Keary Colbert and 33 to Brandon Hancock, rallied the Trojans from a 17-10 deficit when he stepped in behind center with 9:25 left in the third quarter.

Both of White's TD runs, Leinart's pass to Hancock and two of Ryan Killeen's three field goals came in the second half, which Leinart expected.

"We didn't really change much," Leinart said. "We're a second-half team, always have been and always will be."

The left-hander, who earned the right to replace Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer during spring practice, was injured in a sack on USC's first play of the second quarter.

"They said, 'It's up to you if you can go," Leinart said about returning. "I was running on it a little bit and limping a little bit, and sometimes you've just got to block out the pain and go."

After White tied the score at 17 with his long run with 6:42 left in the third quarter, the defense sacked Walter twice and returned the ball to the offense. Leinart started a 75-yard drive by passing to Mike Williams for 33 yards and ended it with a 33-yarder to Hancock.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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