Hadn't we seen this before? Same time, same date, same bowl game?

Same New Year's Day script?

A furious late rally to save face by the big Midwestern boys who run the ball a lot falls just short, allowing the local beach boys to pull off the annual upset everyone has come to expect.

In a usual day at the Rose Bowl, No. 18 Southern Cal rolled to an 11-point halftime lead, then held on to defeat No. 6 Ohio State, 20-17, before a crowd of 102,594.

Same old Big Ten. For the fourth consecutive Rose Bowl, the 10th in the last 11 years and the 14th in the last 16, the Pac-10 won. What's more, only one of six Big Ten teams playing in bowl games this season won. (Iowa defeated Texas in the Freedom Bowl.)

"I don't know how to explain any one but this one," said Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce said of the Big Ten's inability to win the Rose Bowl. "Obviously, they play very well here."

From year to year, only the names change. This time, Tim Green, a senior with an erratic left arm who was taken off the redshirt list early in the season because of an injury to another quarterback, led a maligned USC offense to a 17-6 lead at halftime.

And, although all-America tailback Keith Byars gained 109 yards on 23 carries, he got 50 on his first carry and was stacked up most of the day by a swarming, emotional USC defense.

"They all play 11 men as one," Byars said after the game.

The Buckeyes (9-3) blamed mistakes, including two interceptions of senior quarterback Mike Tomczak that led to both USC touchdowns. The Trojans (9-3) credited a "Rose Bowl high."

"We knew our only chance to win was to get a ton of hits on Byars," said USC Coach Ted Tollner. "We knew we weren't going to score a whole bunch of points, but we had to stop him on the long gains. We do it the hard way, physically and emotionally.

"That's what Rose Bowls are for, I think."

But this Rose Bowl would not be his tonight were it not for the Buckeyes' drive that fell short. The Trojans stopped a furious Ohio State rally on fourth down and 15 at the USC 47 with 47 seconds remaining to ensure the victory.

Putting pressure on Tomczak and holding up Byars at the line, they forced Tomczak to throw sooner then he wanted to reserve tailback John Wooldridge at the 34. The ball was tipped away; USC had won.

That Ohio State drive began at the 35 with four minutes remaining and the stadium in a frenzy. The Buckeyes, it appeared, were coming back.

With 7:34 remaining, they had cut the USC lead to three on Tomczak's 18-yard touchdown pass to Cris Carter and Tomczak's sprint for the two-point conversion.

But that was all Ohio State could do. The Buckeyes, averaging 252 yards rushing per game, gained 113 today. After the third play of the game -- Byars' 50-yard run over right tackle and down the sideline to the USC five -- the Buckeyes gained 63 yards on 33 carries.

"They did an exceptionally good job of stopping us on short yardage," Bruce said. "They did well in stopping our running. They were doing a good job of stopping the things we did well, things that got us here."

There was never a better example of that than the first three minutes. Ohio State drove 78 yards in the game's first four plays, but, after an offside penalty, had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Rich Spangler, his first of three.

"I'd like to have had that touchdown and see what happens then," Bruce said.

Tollner saw it a bit differently. "It was a great reinforcement," he said. "We could play with them."

Steve Jordan ended USC's first possession with a 51-yard field goal, breaking the Rose Bowl record of 48 yards, set by Steve Horowitz of Stanford in 1971. Jordan made another 51-yarder in the third quarter.

But, by then, the record had been broken. It lasted only 30 football minutes: Spangler kicked a 52-yarder with 8:37 left in the third quarter.

After Jordan's first 51-yarder, Ohio State's next six possessions ended in three punts, two interceptions and one fumble.

"I said before the game that the team that makes the fewest number of turnovers will win the ball game," Tomczak said. Ohio State had four; USC, one.

Tomczak was intercepted by linebacker Neil Hope near midfield midway through the first quarter, and, after a return to the OSU 45, the Trojans scored their first touchdown in eight plays.

The drive was typical USC: seven rushes, and one final pass, Green's three-yard sprint out to tight end Joe Cormier, who beat roverback Sonny Gordon for the easy touchdown and a 10-3 lead.

Near the end of the half, the Buckeyes escaped unscathed from Tomczak's fumble on a sack at the 50 when OSU's defense forced three consecutive Green incompletions.

But not on the next possession. Tomczak, from his own 11, was intercepted by cornerback Tommy Haynes at the Ohio State 24 with 58 seconds remaining in the half.

On second down from the 19, Green looked to the left, then lobbed a soft pass to the right into the end zone to flanker Timmie Ware, who was five yards from the nearest defender, for another USC touchdown.

Spangler came right back and kicked a 46-yard field goal as time ran out to end the Buckeyes' miserable first half.