45-Year CFB Anniversary: Alabama Stops 2-Point Try to Upset No. 1 USC, 21-20

Alabama and USC have met eight times, but the last meeting that wasn’t on a neutral field came on this day 45 years ago.

In a top-10 showdown, the defenses dominated the first three quarters. In the end, a missed 2-point conversion was the difference as Alabama held off the top-ranked Trojans, 21-20.

Setting the Stage

At 4-0, USC was the new No. 1 in the AP Poll as it arrived at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Oct. 8, 1977. The Trojans, under second-year head coach John Robinson, had won their final 11 games to close the 1976 season and were riding a 15-game winning streak.

Alabama had overcome a loss at Nebraska to come in with a record of 3-1. The Crimson Tide were 3-0 in SEC play and looking to make a major statement.

Alabama Survives

A third-quarter run by Alabama’s Johnny Davis served as the only touchdown for either team through three quarters as the Crimson Tide entered the final period with a 7-6 lead. Early in the fourth quarter, however, it looked as though Alabama may cruise to victory.

A pair of touchdown runs by Tony Nathan pushed the lead to 21-6. As the nation’s top-ranked team and at home, USC refused to go quietly.

Less than seven minutes remained when the Trojans found the end zone for the first time. Rob Hertel’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Sweeney followed by a successful 2-point conversion cut the lead to 21-14.

With momentum finally favoring USC, Hertel marched the Trojans 79 yards for a score late in the quarter. Lynn Cain’s 1-yard touchdown with 39 seconds left cut the lead to one and left Robinson with a decision to make.

His offense stayed on the field.

After leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, however, Hertel had run out of magic. Barry Krauss intercepted his desperation heave to seal the win for Alabama.

Story:
New York Times

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In Hindsight

The home defeat to Alabama would begin a stretch of four losses in six games for the Trojans. USC closed the year with wins over UCLA and then Texas A&M in the Bluebonnet Bowl to finish 8-4 and No. 13 in the final AP Poll.

As for Alabama, it would not lose again. The Crimson Tide won each of their final seven games — all by at least 14 points — to close on a 10-game winning streak. At 11-1, Alabama finished No. 2 in the polls behind Notre Dame.

The following year, USC would return the favor by beating No. 1 Alabama in Birmingham. Since then, the teams have met just twice. The closest matchup in series history came down to a 2-point conversion and on this day 45 years ago.

Featured image courtesy of Inside SoCal

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.