for this game

Sanchez, USC blow out Ohio State

Sep 14, 2008 - 5:20 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Mark Sanchez pushed his name to the top of the Heisman Trophy watch list while Southern California asserted itself as the top team in the nation.

Sanchez matched a career high with four touchdown passes as top-ranked USC manhandled No. 5 Ohio State, 35-3, in an early season mismatch.

"The No. 5 team in the country, to come out here and beat them like we did, it's a statement," Trojans defensive end Clay Matthews said. "This is a beautiful group coming together."

"It worked out beautifully for us," USC coach Pete Carroll added. "Over the years, when we prepare this well and we have our guys, we're hard to beat. It doesn't matter who we play when we do that. This is what we're capable of doing."

Billed as a showdown between national title contenders, this highly anticipated showdown deteriorated into a laugher by the second half.

And no one wore a bigger smile than Sanchez, who more than answered the numerous questions surrounding his balky knee and his ability to perform in a big game.

Playing in his first home game as the Trojans' full-time starting quarterback, Sanchez was brilliant against Ohio State's heralded defense, completing 17-of-28 passes for 172 yards.

"I don't know about the national spotlight or whatever," Sanchez said. "We're trying to keep it within us, in the Coliseum, in our locker room.

"It's a message for us to know that we're for real. We wanted to prove that to ourselves tonight and I think we lived up to whatever hype (the media) gives us in those rankings."

A Heisman hopeful who suffered a dislocated kneecap in training camp, Sanchez had not thrown four touchdowns since October's 38-0 thrashing of Notre Dame. The junior has thrown seven TDs over two games this season.

While Sanchez and the Trojans executed their offense with relative ease, it was a different story for Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman, who was sacked four times and threw a pair of interceptions.

"When you turn it over and have penalties to start drives and don't take control in any way shape or form, a good team like (USC) is going to make it hard for you to climb back in it," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "We need to understand we can't make those kind of errors and be successful in a game like this."

The Buckeyes, who have lost six straight meetings with the Trojans and have not beaten USC since the 1974 Rose Bowl, managed 208 yards of total offense and committed three turnovers.

Conversely, the Trojans racked up 348 yards of total offense - including 164 on the ground - to improve to 39-1 in their last 40 home openers. USC's talented rushing attack was headlined by super sophomore Joe McKnight, who ran for 105 yards on 12 carries.

Sanchez gave USC (2-0) the lead for good with 33 seconds remaining in the opening quarter when he found fullback Stanley Havili for a 35-yard scoring strike along the left sideline.

"(Sanchez) was awesome today," Havili said. "Not only throwing the ball, but being a leader out there on the field. We come out there and know that Mark is going to give it his all and bring his enthusiasm. We all know that Mark can play like every game."

After breaking free from Ohio State's secondary, the 235-pound Havili made a tremendous catch near the 10-yard line before stumbling across the goal line to make it 7-3.

The highlight-reel catch was a harbinger of things to come, as the Trojans completely outclassed the Buckeyes (2-1) with their superior speed and playmaking ability.

After forcing Ohio State to punt on the first possession of the second quarter, USC needed just over three minutes to reel off a seven-play, 63-yard drive capped by Sanchez's 1-yard TD floater to tight end Blake Ayles.

The score was set up by McKnight's electric 24-yard run that moved the ball to the Ohio State 26-yard line.

Not to be outdone, USC's defense looked dominant against an Ohio State offense that was without superstar running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, who was sidelined with a foot injury.

"We knew if we let them linger around, they could make a play and make this a game," Sanchez said. "The defense holding them to three points - that's something in itself."

Facing a 14-3 deficit, Ohio State drove the ball to the Trojans' 19-yard line with 8:25 remaining in the first half. But a pair of penalties - including a holding call that nullified a touchdown pass by Boeckman - pushed the Buckeyes back to the USC 29, and Ryan Pretorius missed a 46-yard field goal.

"Had we got it to 14-10, it would not have ended up 35-3," Tressel said. "I don't know what would have happened."

Ohio State regained possession with 4:05 left in the first half. But Boeckman was intercepted by linebacker Rey Maualuga, who shook off a host of would-be tacklers and tip-toed down the right sideline for a 48-yard touchdown that made it 21-3.

"We needed (Maualuga's interception)," USC safety Taylor Mays said. "We wanted to get some turnovers and get some sacks, and we got that tonight."

The Trojans salted away the contest in the third quarter as Sanchez found Damian Williams for scoring strikes of 24 and 17 yards over a span of 4 1/2 minutes. The second TD pass to Williams pushed the score to 35-3, and USC coasted thereafter.

"I don't know about my efficiency, but the touchdown passes were great," Sanchez said. "We had time, guys made big time plays, but I want to improve."

Boeckman finished 14-of-21 for just 84 yards while Dan Herron rushed for 51 yards on 11 carries.

It was another dismal performance in a prime-time game for the Buckeyes, who have been blown out in losing each of the last two BCS championship games.

Ohio State clearly missed Wells, who rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 TDs during his breakthrough 2007 season. The junior suffered the foot injury in the third quarter of the season opener against Youngstown State two weeks ago and had hoped to play in this contest.

But Tressel, who ruled Wells out of the game on Friday, claimed that the Buckeyes would still have lost even with the Heisman hopeful in the lineup.

"We played as well as we could, with or without Beanie," Tressel said. "We played against a great team tonight. We were never able to take control on offense or defense."

One of the only bright spots for Ohio State was the play of freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who completed 7-of-9 passes for 52 yards and also rushed for 40 yards.