SAN FRANCISCO -- Southern California ended a disappointing season with a bowl win that the Trojans hope will vault them into a more successful 2010.
Matt Barkley threw touchdown passes to Stanley Havili on Southern California's first two possessions and added a touchdown run in the fourth quarter to help the Trojans beat Boston College 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl on Saturday night.
"It was important to be able to end on that note with that positive attitude knowing we're capable of winning like that and getting back to playing Trojan football," Barkley said. "It's huge for us to be able to go into the offseason like that."
The victory was far from impressive but it did put a positive ending on the worst season at USC (9-4) since Pete Carroll's first back in 2001. The Trojans lost three of their final five regular-season games to fall out of the national rankings for the first time since that year.
That left USC in an unfamiliar bowl setting after making it to the Bowl Championship Series the past seven years, including four straight Rose Bowl bids. But the Trojans made the most of it, handing Boston College (8-5) its second straight bowl loss after an eight-year bowl winning streak.
"We needed this 'W,"' Havili said. "We're happy to start next season with a win. We had a great two weeks of practice and it was all a matter of executing. Yeah, we're used to playing in the Rose Bowl but we're still motivated to play and to win this game, since this is where we played. We had a great game plan up front. It was a growing season. We had a lot of young guys step up."
Damian Williams caught 12 passes for 189 yards in what could be his final game for the Trojans, grabbing long passes to set up Havili's second score and Barkley's 1-yard sneak that gave USC a 24-13 lead with 11:53 remaining. Williams will decide in the next few days whether to skip his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
The Eagles stayed close with the Trojans for most of the game before Dave Shinskie threw an interception to Shareece Wright early in the fourth quarter. On the next play, Barkley connected on a 48-yard pass to Williams, who made a leaping grab between three defenders. Barkley scored on the next play.
The Trojans won despite playing without leading rusher Joe McKnight, who was not cleared to play as the school investigates whether he violated rules by using an SUV that doesn't belong to him. McKnight is USC's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2005, with 1,014 yards on 6.2 yards per carry and eight touchdowns.
USC struggled on the ground without McKnight but was able to move the ball consistently through the air as Barkley often found receivers on slant patterns. Barkley was 27 of 37 for 350 yards in the second 300-yard game of his freshman season. He also threw two interceptions that allowed Boston College to stay close until the fourth quarter.
"We needed to do something good and feel good," Carroll said. "There was a lot of distraction and a lot of adversity going into this thing, most of it self-inflicted. I'm very happy with the way we turned our focus and the way we accomplished things inside."
The Trojans got a fast start by scoring touchdowns on their two possessions with passes from Barkley to Havili to go up 14-0. But USC didn't score again in the half, with Barkley throwing an interception deep in BC territory to end one potential scoring drive.
The Eagles got right back into the game with a 7-yard run by Montel Harris. Steve Aponavicius hit the upright on the extra point attempt, ending a streak of 81 straight makes since late in the 2007 season.
BC got help from a big mistake by USC to get another score late in the half. Michael Morgan was called for pass interference on a third-and-21 toss to Chris Pantale that went only 2 yards. But the infraction gave the Eagles an automatic first down and Shinskie connected with Rich Gunnell on a 61-yard TD pass on the next play to make it 14-13.
Gunnell finished with six catches for 130 yards, breaking Pete Mitchell's school record for yards receiving with 2,659 in his career.
"Stuff like that doesn't run through my mind," Gunnell said. "It would be better if we won the game. Since we didn't win, I don't think about that too much."
The Eagles missed a golden opportunity to score after intercepting Barkley on the first play of the second half to give them the ball at the 9. Harris fumbled a handoff two plays later, costing BC a chance to take its first lead of the game.
Harris finished with 102 yards on 23 carries for his fifth straight 100-yard game, but BC struggled to move the ball in the second half. The Eagles had just 19 yards in the third quarter and never mounted a sustained drive in the second half until the game had been decided.
"We certainly felt going in that we could win," coach Frank Spaziani said. "We knew how we had to play. We made too many mistakes. It's frustrating."