MANHATTAN, Kan. - Ell Roberson will have to wait to find out whether his up-and-down performance Saturday night was good enough to earn him another start as Kansas State's quarterback.
Roberson came off the bench to throw one touchdown pass and run for another score to lead the 25th-ranked Wildcats past No. 11 Southern California 27-20 Saturday night.
Roberson also fumbled twice, giving the Trojans one touchdown and denying Kansas State (4-0) a game-clinching TD late in the game.
"I was thinking, `If they come down and tie it up, and we go into overtime and they win, I'm going to be the worst man in Manhattan,"' Roberson said.
But Kansas State's defense, which had already surrendered two fourth-quarter touchdowns, stopped the comeback short.
"We had to make a statement," linebacker Terry Pierce said. "Everybody was saying that we were going to lose, so we had to make a statement. If we didn't ... then everyone would be denying that Kansas State is a good football team."
Kansas State earned its first-ever home win against a ranked nonconference opponent. The Wildcats had not played a ranked nonconference opponent in the regular season since losing 56-3 at No. 8 Washington in September 1991.
Roberson, who lost the starting job during fall practice, replaced Marc Dunn to start the second quarter. He completed 10-of-15 passes for 134 yards and ran for 70 yards on 23 carries.
Still, coach Bill Snyder wasn't ready to proclaim Roberson, who started nine games last year, his starter for the Wildcats' Big 12 opener at Colorado on Oct. 5.
"As of right now, he's one of our quarterbacks," said Snyder, who graded Roberson's performance "somewhere between average and C-minus."
The Trojans (2-1) were the first ranked nonconference team to visit Manhattan since No. 17 Iowa beat the Wildcats 45-10 in September 1988.
Carson Palmer, who came in averaging 273 yards passing for USC, was held to 186 yards on 18-of-47 passing. He didn't lead the Trojans on a scoring drive until the fourth quarter, when his 9-yard pass to Keary Colbert cut the lead to 27-13 with just over 10 minutes left.
Colbert had a career-high 11 catches for 125 yards.
"We had a chance to win this game," said Palmer, who passed Rob Johnson for the Trojans' career yardage record with 8,608, Johnson had 8,472. "We showed we had some fight, and the defense never gave up. But it just took us too long to get going."
Sultan McCullough's 25-yard TD run with 6½ minutes left pulled the Trojans to 27-20. Roberson led the Wildcats downfield to the Trojans' 12-yard line, but his fumble into the end zone was recovered for a touchback by Southern California's DeShaun Hill.
Palmer got the Trojans as far as Kansas State's 33-yard line with just over a minute left, but he was sacked for a 5-yard loss by Tank Reese and Melvin Williams. He then threw too long for Colbert on fourth-and-15.
"I'm sure he takes the burden for this," USC coach Pete Carroll said of Palmer. "That's the way he is. We dropped so many balls tonight that you can't tell what kind of game he could have had."
Roberson ran 1 yard for a touchdown in the second quarter to put Kansas State up 10-0. He added a 9-yard scoring pass to James Terry on the first play of the fourth quarter, followed by a 2-point conversion run, for a 27-6 lead.
By STEVE BRISENDINE
Associated Press Writer