By Kevin Merfeld Daily Trojan
Los Angeles, CA (U-WIRE) -- For a half, USC looked flatter than a week-old Coca-Cola.

But by the end of the fourth quarter, the Trojans looked refreshed and relieved, sneaking away with a 38-28 victory over No. 14 Arizona State.

No. 1 USC (4-0, 2-0 Pacific-10 Conference) overcame a 21-3 first-half hole and three lead changes in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon in front of a sell-out crowd of 71,706 in 95 degree heat at Sun Devil Stadium to win a Pac-10 record 26th game in a row.

"We were on a torrid pace for destruction in the first quarter," said USC coach Pete Carroll, whose team was held without a touchdown in the first half for the first time since playing Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.

"They were in total command in the first half."

After a start reminiscent of last week's game at Oregon, last year's game at Stanford and the Trojans' last loss at California, USC awoke from its coma and outscored the Sun Devils 35-7 to close the game, running for 373 yards in the process.

Running back LenDale White led the Trojans with 19 carries for 197 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-icing score from 46 yards out with two minutes and 22 seconds left in the game to give USC a 10-point cushion.

White's partner in crime, running back Reggie Bush, ran for 158 yards on 17 carries and scored the game-winning touchdown from 34 yards away with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"We were just pounding the ball," Bush said. "LenDale went in there and broke them up and I went in and ran around them. They were getting tired. I could see it in their faces."

The late-game heroics were necessary after the Trojans committed eight of their 11 penalties in the first quarter, gave up a punt return for a touchdown, converted just 2-of-10 third-down conversions in the first half and had an uncharacteristically challenging time throwing the ball.

"We certainly understand that close doesn't count, but USC is a heck of a football team and you have to give them credit," said Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter, whose team held the Trojans to a season-low 38 points.

After the Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1) gave up their 18-point lead and fell behind by three with less than nine minutes in the fourth quarter, they battled to take the lead for a second time when Sam Keller found tight end Lee Burghraef from one yard out. The drive capped off their longest of the game, a 70-yard march on 10 plays that took two minutes and 49 seconds.

But USC responded with a five-play, 80-yard drive of its own that took just 2:13 to give it the lead, 31-28.

"This team will go through hell and back before it takes a loss," said linebacker Oscar Lua, whose interception in the second quarter snapped a streak of 131 passes Keller had thrown without an interception.

The Trojans nearly did in the first half when quarterback Matt Leinart took a late hit from linebacker Robert James with six minutes and 15 seconds to play in the first quarter. The shot knocked Leinart out of the game for one play.

"I don't know if I was all there the whole game," Leinart said. "It was the hardest hit I've had in a long time."

The nation's second-leading passer threw for 113 yards in the first two quarters by completing 10-of-23 passes. The offense punted on its first four drives of the first quarter *-- one more time than Tom Malone had punted entering the game.

Leinart finished strong, completing 13 of his last 16 attempts, but was held without a passing touchdown for the first time since last year at UCLA. He wound up with 258 yards and no interceptions, but admitted he did not play up to his Heisman billing.

"This wasn't my best game mentally," said Leinart, who's only score came on a quarterback sneak to give USC its first lead of the game at 24-21.

"I didn't do a lot, but I didn't make mistakes."

But Leinart did enough, which consisted mostly of finding fullback David Kirtman, who led USC receivers with seven catches for 97 yards. His 42-yard catch in the fourth quarter sparked the Trojans on the drive that set up Leinart's sneak.

"We had nothing in the first half that felt right except for Dave," said Carroll, whose offense has outscored its last two opponents, 70-7, in the second half.

Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller, who entered the game fifth in the nation with 365.5 yards of total offense per game, threw a career-high five interceptions. When he led the Sun Devils down the field for their third touchdown of the game, he was as hot as the Tempe sun, completing six straight passes for 100 yards.

Keller ended the game with 347 passing and two touchdowns. Derek Hagan led the Sun Devils with 10 catches for 162 yards.

After Bush scored to give USC its second lead of the game, Keller threw to a leaping Hagan over the middle of the field. Hagan bobbled the pass, but it fell into the hands of safety Kevin Ellison at the Trojan 44, ending Arizona State's upset hopes.

The Trojans have now won their past six meetings against the Sun Devils.

(C) 2004 Daily Trojan via U-WIRE