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When Healthy, for a Change, Webster Gives USC Changeup

October 29, 1986|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

Just when it seemed that USC had brought tailback Steve Webster back from the injury list to add a little pizazz to the running game, his status is now doubtful.

Webster, a sophomore who was inactive most of last season with an ankle injury, made his season debut last Saturday against Stanford and contributed 60 yards in 16 carries.

More important, he got some of his yardage on a crucial field goal drive in the fourth quarter that helped put Stanford away, 10-0.

Webster reinjured his right ankle, though, and may not be able to practice this week, or play against Arizona Saturday night in Tucson.

Aaron Emanuel, the starting tailback, is bothered by a pinched nerve in his neck, but he is expected to play. Ryan Knight, the No. 2 tailback, is reasonably fit.

Although USC's passing game is flourishing with an average of 227.9 yards a game, the running attack is lagging with an average of only 142.3, one of the lowest in the last 20 years. USC Coach Ted Tollner, referring to Webster on Tuesday as a darting, change-of-direction runner, said Webster complements Emanuel and Knight because of the contrast in styles.

"I don't believe in this injury-prone stuff, but Steve has gone through three or four years where he has never played a football season," Tollner said. "He was hurt for half of his senior season in high school.

"He's a strong guy, a tough guy and a great athlete. He would give us a real change-of-pace type runner in our offense if we could keep him healthy.

"He's just ideal for a changeup from the other two. He's here and he's there. If you have a guy like that along with a power-type guy, you have some pretty good weapons.

"We would like him to change up with our power guys and, along with the diversity of (quarterback) Rodney Peete and our receivers, you have something to defend."

Emanuel didn't seem to be running with his usual punishing style against Stanford. There was a reason for it, according to Tollner.

"He was pounding well, then he pinched a nerve," Tollner said. "It forced him to drop his arm pretty good. He tried to pad it up on one side and play. Then, when he was running, there was no question that he was trying to protect the injury.

"He's as tough as they come, though, and he has a very high threshold of pain."

Tollner doubts whether Emanuel's condition will get any better, because the injury is aggravated every time he gets hit.

"We're getting into a concern area right now," the USC coach said. "Knight is the only one who can practice today."

Tollner then read from a long list supplied him by his trainers as to the availability of his players. Most of them were in the limited category. Others simply couldn't practice.

Tollner just shrugged and said: "What does all of this mean? I don't know. I think they'll all play on Saturday."

As for USC's running game, in which the team average is only 3.35 yards a carry, including yardage lost by Peete on sacks, Tollner said:

"I would like for our passing game to stay where it is right now, but we would like to get another 40 to 60 yards out of our running game. We would like to be approaching 200 yards instead of 140.

"We need to come closer to 200 yards when we are committing as many plays to the run. If we weren't committing that many plays to the run, then I wouldn't care. It wouldn't be fair. We need to average over four yards a rush instead of three.

"It still comes back to the thing that we're not getting enough 10- to 30-yard runs."

Tollner said that the productivity of the running game is a combination of blocking by the offensive line and, of course, the skill of his running backs.

USC hasn't averaged more than 200 yards rushing since 1981, when Marcus Allen was running to a Heisman Trophy.

"I'm not concerned about having the leading rusher in the conference, or what the old numbers were," Tollner said. "What we really want to do is get our offense averaging 400 yards a game. If it's slightly over or under 200 yards, rush or pass, I don't care.

"Then, you can lead your league in offense and can be somewhat balanced. To me, balance is 180 to 220 in one category, or vice versa. Then, you present some real problems for your opponents."

Trojan Notes Arizona State is the only unbeaten, but once-tied team, in the Pacific 10. Three other schools, UCLA, Arizona and Washington, have only one loss each. USC and Stanford, each with two losses, are still technically in the Rose Bowl race. "Anyone that has a winning record right now, the month of November is the one to play for, going for a championship or bowl opportunities," USC Coach Ted Tollner said. "You want to go into November with as good a record as you can and be in good spirits from a morale standpoint and good health from an injury standpoint and have it snowball into something good. For the most part, we have pluses in all of those categories. We have a winning record (5-2) that would enable us to have a good year, our physical health is decent and our mental attitude is good after a fairly dominant win over a good football team (Stanford). It's an encouraging situation, even though we play another quality team on the road."

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