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Tanner Is Now USC's No. 1 Trick Passer : Wide Receiver Fools Defenses With His Arm--and He Can Catch, Too

September 28, 1986|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

'I haven't got into the end zone myself yet, but I've helped Kenny (Henry) get there twice already this season. It feels different to be passing, but I'll do whatever I can to help the team. I'm not a guy with a big ego.'


Randy Tanner may have an indentity crisis on the football field, but you really can't say he is suffering from it. Tanner is a wide receiver for USC, but there's this unusual catch: He throws touchdowns passes rather than catches them.

During the Trojans' resounding 20-10 win over Washington in their Pacific 10 opener Saturday at the Coliseum, Tanner led the team in pass receptions with 7, accounting for 77 yards. But Tanner will be remembered most for his 67-yard trick-play touchdown pass to split end Ken Henry in USC's impressive second-half comeback.

If Tanner's scoring pass after taking a cross-field lateral pass from quarterback Rodney Peete surprised the Huskies, maybe they weren't studying the game films from previous USC games. Or maybe Washington just figured that the Trojans wouldn't have the gall to try the same deceptive play twice in three weeks.

Actually, this one was a bit different. Two weeks ago against Illinois, Tanner pulled up from a double reverse and threw a 30-yard scoring pass to Henry to give the Trojans a comfortable lead in the third quarter.

The way Tanner is going, he may challenge Peete for most Trojan touchdown passes thrown this season. As it stands now, Peete narrowly leads Tanner in touchdown passes, 3-2.

Tanner, a 5-foot 11-inch, 190-pound junior out of Bishop Amat High School, laughs when the comparison is made.

"I haven't got into the end zone myself yet," Tanner said, "but I've helped Kenny (Henry) get there twice already this season. It feels different to be passing, but I'll do whatever I can to help the team. I'm not a guy with a big ego."

Perhaps if Tanner's ego was as developed as his arm, he would have delusions about throwing more than one pass a game.

"Really, he knows I don't want his job," Tanner says, laughing. "Just as long as Rodney looks for me when he's passing the ball."

Other than Henry, Tanner has been Peete's favorite target this season. Tanner has 10 receptions for 130 yards. Henry has 14 catches for 262 yards, but it should be noted that 97 of those yards came on Tanner-thrown passes.

Tanner's most important reception Saturday came early in the fourth quarter with the Trojans driving for what proved to be the winning touchdown. Faced with a third-and-10 at Washington's 30, Peete hit Tanner for a 17-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, Peete threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Henry.

Peete, who says Tanner eventually will get his turn on the receiving end, said the reason the trick play has worked twice in three games is that it varies.

"Each week, we try to do something different to keep the teams off guard," Peete said. "(Washington) might have been expecting a pass off a reverse, but they haven't seen the double pass."

Tanner, who received the ball near the sideline about a yard in back of Peete, had the option of running or passing. When he looked downfield and saw Henry loping along alone, he let it fly.

Said Henry: "I was so open, I had too much time to think about it. I just looked up, hoping the ball was there. Then, I just grabbed it and ran."

Tanner had noticed that Washington's defensive backs were playing close to the line of scrimmage, so he figured Henry would be open.

"I didn't want to underthrow or overthrow him because he was wide open," Tanner said. "Just lay it out there for him."

Tanner's pass had a sharper spiral than some of Peete's, but he's had plenty of experience throwing in his career. As a running back at Bishop Amat, Tanner completed 9 of 16 passes for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns. Last season at USC, he completed a 50-yard bomb to Hank Norman on a flanker reverse against Stanford.

Tanner might have attempted more than one pass last season had he been around for all of it. His sophomore season ended six games after it started when he ruptured the tendon in his left kneecap returning the opening kickoff against Notre Dame. It is the same injury that sidelined Dodger slugger Pedro Guerrero this season, and Tanner said the rehabilitation is not easy.

He missed all of spring practice while recuperating but started feeling stronger last summer. Now, he says his knee is fully healed.

There was, however, some doubt in Tanner's mind going into the Trojans' season opener three weeks ago.

"It's a rough injury," Tanner said. "The rehab takes a long time. Still, before the first game, you think, can it happen again? But I'm fine now. Lynn Swann (former All-American flanker at USC) was my idol. And he was such a hard worker, I want to be one, too."

Tanner says he has been a USC fan since he started following football. And naturally, being a receiver, he says the Trojans' change from a mostly conservative running team a to wide-open offense is a welcome change.

"I believe we've changed the offense so that we can utilize everyone involved in the offense, not just (the tailbacks)," Tanner said. "If we run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, the (opposing) defense doesn't have to work as hard. There's no limit to our offense. We're multifaceted." So too, it seems, is Tanner.

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