TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – The problem with big comebacks is something bad has to happen to make them necessary.

No. 1 USC pulled off another one in grand style against Arizona State on Saturday, but for the second week in a row, the Trojans were awful in the early stages of the game.

“There was no excuse for those errors,” Reggie Bush said. “We are a national champion team.”

With their team down 21-3 at the half, Bush and fellow tailback LenDale White carried the weight of the comeback, running over, through and past the Sun Devils’ defense in a 35-7 second half onslaught that gave the Trojans a 38-28 victory.

“Gosh, we finished so strong,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We just pounded the football in the second half.”

With the temperature climbing toward 100, USC overpowered the Sun Devils at the line of scrimmage. Bush finished with 158 yards on 17 carries, including touchdown runs of 24 and 34 yards. White’s numbers were even better, 197 yards on 19 attempts, with touchdowns of 32 and 46 yards.

“This is definitely a character-building game,” White said. “These are games you like to be in because it defines character and defines a champion.”

USC broke its own Pac-10 record with its 26th consecutive victory, a streak that began two seasons ago in Tempe.

But the day began so poorly that the sun-drenched capacity crowd of 71,706 thought it might be a repeat of nine years ago, when the Sun Devils upset No. 1 Nebraska, ending a 26-game winning streak for the two-time defending national champion Cornhuskers.

In the first quarter, USC committed eight penalties, four of them for illegal procedure. The Trojans punted four times, matching their total for the first three games combined.

On one of the punts, Terry Richardson burst up the middle, then down the left sidelines 84 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

“It’s a great illustration once again that no matter how good you are, you can’t perform if you keep killing yourself,” Carroll said. “I’m really disappointed.”

Matt Leinart acknowledged after the game that he was a little foggy after a late hit by Arizona State’s Robert James sent him to the sidelines for a play in the first half.

“My head was hit pretty good,” Leinart said. “I don’t know if I was all there the whole game. I just sat there a little bit and got my composure back. It’s probably the hardest hit I’ve had in a long time.”

After that, he said, “I just did my job. I didn’t do a lot, but I didn’t make mistakes. I just did what a leader does. I just moved the ball downfield.”

As Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller left the field at halftime, he signaled to the boisterous student section. He had no idea the nightmare that he would face in the final two quarters.

Keller entered the game with 16 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He had thrown 125 in a row without a pick. That streak ended in the first half when Oscar Lua’s interception set up USC’s field goal.

In the second half, USC’s secondary – considered the weakest part of a rebuilt defense – intercepted Keller four times.

“It just seemed like they were always in a position to make that play,” Keller said. “If I made a mistake, forget it, they were right there.”

Shutting down Arizona State and Oregon in the second half the last two weeks has erased the defensive doubts, Lua said.

“In games like this, it just comes down to who wants it more and who has more heart,” he said. “I’ve never questioned our defense. I’ve always known we’ve had outstanding athletes and I think we just proved it again today.”

The Trojans are home against Arizona on Saturday, then comes another big road challenge Oct. 15 at Notre Dame.

In the meantime, Carroll and his staff will try to figure out why this mighty machine seems to need time to get revved up. When the Trojans get going, though, there seems to be no stopping them.

After trailing the last two weeks on the road, USC has outscored the opponents 70-7 in the last two quarters.

“We’re capable of playing like that in both halves,” Carroll said. “That’s frustrating to the coaches. But it’s just so powerful to see it happen for the second week in a row.”

AP-ES-10-02-05 1647EDT


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