LOS ANGELES -- If Southern Cal tight end Fred Cornwell hadn't caught the game-winning pass in the Trojans' dramatic victory over Oklahoma last weekend there would be a game named in his honor this Saturday.
Cornwell caught John Mazur's 7-yard pass with two seconds left to give top-ranked USC a 28-24 victory. One play earlier he had set himself up to be the goat of the game by accidentally deflecting a sure TD pass to Marcus Allen.
'Sure he's a big deal now,' USC Coach John Robinson said with a laugh. 'But if he missed that last pass and we'd lost, we would have killed him. 'Saturday's game against Oregon State would be billed as the Fred Cornwell Memorial Game.'
At Tuesday's 1 -hour news conference, Robinson spent only about 20 minutes talking about his Trojans' plans for Oregon State. The rest of the time was devoted to the stirring come-from-behind victory over No. 2 ranked Oklahoma. Trailing 24-14 in the final quarter, USC rallied to win the showdown before 85,651 in the Coliseum and an estimated 10 million national television viewers. And Robinson, whose team was a near unanimous selection for the No. 1 spot in the UPI coaches' poll this week, said he still hasn't come down from the excitement.
'The euphoria didn't wear off for a long time,' Robinson said. 'I'm not sure it has yet. Usually I'm drained after a game and go home and sleep. But I stayed up Saturday night. I stayed up for a long time.
'It was a great day, a truly great day. That stadium, those fans, all that emotion and to have an ending like that... 'It's almost too much to believe. We captured the entire country for a few hours and it turned out to be one of the very best games I've ever been involved in.'
Robinson normally downplays the significance of the college football ratings, insisting that only the final poll matters. But not this week. 'Damn right we should be No. 1,' he said. 'We deserve it.
'You've got to take a test to get to the top, and Oklahoma was a test, baby. The game showed the heart of this team, the character of the players we have.
'They had us on the ropes most of the game but we didn't quit. We fought them and we fought them some more. And we beat them.'
Robinson was asked if the three-play, game-winning series inside the Oklahoma 10-yard line was a well-planned attack. 'We know exactly what we're doing at all times and that's why we're the best,' he responded quickly. 'We don't draw plays in the dirt. We've practiced everything over and over again. It's preparation. That's the key.' Robinson even showed his good humor while heaping the praise on Allen, the nation's leading rusher with a record-setting average of 230.7 yards per game. Allen carried 39 times for 208 yards, his third straight game with more than 200 yards.
'The other coaches kept telling me 'You've got to use the fullback, you've got to use the fullback,'' Robinson said. 'I couldn't figure out why. 'We'd give the ball to the fullback and he'd get three yards. We'd give to Marcus and he'd go part way down the damn field every time. 'He was getting 13 yards a clip. Well, simple arithmetic told me to keep giving it to Marcus. What do you want, three yards or 13 yards? Let's see, 13 minus three...that's a difference of eight yards a carry.'
Allen could set an NCAA record of four consecutive games of 200 yards or more rushing against Oregon State, and Robinson said the coaching staff would do all it could to make sure Allen got a fair crack at it.
'I feel you owe it to the man to give him a shot,' Robinson said. 'I hope he gets the record and we'll try to help. That doesn't mean we'll run him if he's hurt or if winning the game calls for passing.
' But if we're ahead a few touchdowns and he needs another 25 yards, sure we'll keep him in there.'
But with all the excitement over Saturday's victory, Robinson made it clear his 3-0 Trojans won't head for Corvallis, Ore., unprepared to play this weekend against the 1-2 Beavers.
'We'll be facing a sound football team in their stadium with their weather (read: rain),' Robinson said. 'We'll be ready for them. 'We'll tell each player this week that they have to play better next week. We want to win all eight of our Pac-10 games and I don't believe we can do that without considerable improvement.'