LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 15 -- This looked a lot like a Rose Bowl game -- large crowd, California sun, big-name schools -- which might prove to be good experience for Southern California and Penn State. Because someday this matchup might be exactly that.

By the time Penn State makes that a possibility by becoming a full-fledged member of the Big Ten Conference, though, USC's Todd Marinovich should be well into his NFL career. The college game continues to be largely routine for the sophomore quarterback, who today led the sixth-ranked Trojans to a 19-14 victory over the Nittany Lions before 70,594 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

It was the first regular season meeting between the schools, and the opener of an eight-game series. But Marinovich, already talked about as a candidate for early entry into the NFL, will have departed by the time Penn State starts competing for a Rose Bowl bid.

His absence won't upset the Nittany Lions (0-2). Marinovich caused problems for them throughout today's game, leading Southern California (2-0) on scoring drives of 78 and 92 yards in playing his second straight virtually error-free game.

What would have been his only major mistake -- a pass intended for Joel Scott that came a lot closer to Penn State's Keith Goganious -- went off Goganious's fingertips on the linebacker's way to a potentially game-winning touchdown along the left sideline.

"The outside linebacker really made a great play," said Marinovich, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown. "It's not like I didn't see him. I didn't think he had a chance at catching it."

Actually, the turning point came earlier in the fourth quarter, when the Trojans' goal-line defense stopped Penn State on five successive plays inside the 3, three of them inside the 1.

On the last of those three plays, linebackers Kurt Barber and Craig Hartsuyker pressured Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca back to the 20 before Barber deflected Sacca's hurried attempt at a pass.

"It was supposed to be a fake and a little pass to the tight end," Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said of the play. "It was my decision and I thought we should do it because they'd be pinned back."

"That was the key point in the game," said Scott Ross, two-time all-Pacific-10 linebacker and the Trojans' defensive leader. "It was everything."

Said Marinovich: "That was one of those USC moments you always see on {television}. It pumped up the whole stadium."

On a later drive, the Nittany Lions scored on Leroy Thompson's two-yard run with 4:53 remaining, but by then the Trojans had taken an additional two minutes off the clock.

Though not as exciting as the goal-line stand, Southern California's third-quarter scoring drive had a similar effect. Marinovich, starting from the Trojans 8, directed a 15-play march that ended with a one-yard touchdown dive by running back Ricky Ervins.

Marinovich was at his best during that sequence, completing five of five passes as the Trojans maintained possession for more than six minutes.

Three of the completions went to flanker Gary Wellman, and each resulted in a first down. Wellman, 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, posted career-highs in receptions (nine) and yardage (121).

"Me and Todd were just executing really well," said Wellman, who assessed their performance as "average. . . . We just took a little time to get the offense clicking and in the second half we put it all together."

As it did in its season opening loss to Texas, Penn State squandered scoring opportunities and made critical mistakes.

Craig Fayak missed wide left on a 39-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. Later in the quarter, pass interference and personal foul penalties set up the Trojans' initial touchdown. And Sacca, 16 of 34 for 243 yards, was intercepted twice in the second half by Stephon Pace.

This marks the first time since 1983 that Penn State opened a season with two losses. That year it recovered to win eight of its 11 remaining games and finished with an 8-4-1 record and a victory over Washington in the Aloha Bowl.

"We're working so hard that we're going to get good," Paterno said. "These games won't hurt, and over time they'll help us. Except for one drive, I thought we played very well today.

"We had a chance to get a big interception late in the game but we're just not making big plays. A couple of big plays in either game and it's a different story."

Compared to a 13-for-32 performance in the Texas loss, Sacca was impressive at the start, completing eight of his first nine passes against an inexperienced secondary.

At the start of the second quarter, Sacca led the Nittany Lions on a nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that culminated with his behind-the-line-of-scrimmage escape from safety Marcus Hopkins and eight-yard scoring pass to Al Golden.

Marinovich, however, brought the Trojans back quickly, completing passes of 25 and 35 yards to set up the first of Quin Rodriguez's two field goals in the second quarter.

A 26-yarder by Rodriguez with 8:20 remaining in the half gave the Trojans a 10-7 lead. His 46-yarder about five minutes later accounted for their 13-7 halftime edge.

Coming off a career-high 337 passing yards against Syracuse two weeks ago, Marinovich showed no sign of rustiness. He completed five of his first six passes in directing a 16-play scoring drive that consumed more than eight minutes.

The Trojans' 7-0 lead came on a Marinovich-to-Frank Griffin pass from the Penn State 5 with 3:04 left in the quarter.