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Trojans Give Cal a Knight Clubbing, 28-3 : USC Tailback Gains 204 Yards, Scores 4 Times

November 16, 1986|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

It was a night that Ryan Knight certainly will remember.

The USC junior tailback revived memories of some of his famous predecessors as he scored 4 touchdowns and ran for 204 yards in 36 carries while the Trojans were beating up on California, 28-3, Saturday evening at the Coliseum.

Knight said he knew that he was "the man" because USC's other tailbacks, Aaron Emanuel and Steve Webster, were unable to play due to injuries.

"When you come to USC, you want to be the man, and this game did wonders for my confidence," said Knight, who lost his starting job to Emanuel before the fifth game, against Washington State. "I didn't have to worry about looking over at the sidelines if I made a mistake."

There wasn't anyone available to replace him except wide receiver Lonnie White, who had been prepared as an emergency tailback. Knight made the most of his opportunity.

To be sure, the California Bears' defense would never be confused with the Chicago Bears'. Cal came into the game a 1-8 team with a lame-duck coach, Joe Kapp, waiting for a nightmare of a season to come to a merciful end.

Nevertheless, Knight, benefiting from huge holes created by his offensive line, ran hard and looked quicker than he has in some previous games.

A crowd of 48,019 on a cool evening watched Knight impressively accomplish the following:

--He became the first USC tailback to have a 200-yard plus rushing game since Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen gained 219 yards against UCLA in 1981.

--It was also, obviously, a career high for Knight, whose previous best performance was 147 yards in 32 carries against UCLA last year.

--He became the first Trojan to score four touchdowns in a game since Allen did it against Washington State in '81.

--USC had four long touchdown drives totaling 292 yards, and Knight accounted for 182 yards. Also, Knight compiled all but 76 yards of USC's rushing total of 280.

To put Knight's big game in perspective, you only have to look at his previous statistics. With his 204 yards, he gained almost as many yards in one game as he had in eight others--a modest 212, and a 2.90-yards-a-carry average.

And this was a USC team that was averaging only 139.3 yards a game rushing before Saturday. USC stuttered at times and threw passes when it seemed that the easier route was just to give the ball to the 205-pound Knight.

But who could quibble when USC so throughly dominated the downtrodden Bears? By winning, USC improved its overall record to 7-2 and its Pac-10 mark to 5-2.

Several bowl representatives were in the press box, and if USC beats UCLA next Saturday at the Rose Bowl, the Trojans may get a bid to a New Year's Day game.

Not the Rose Bowl, of course. Arizona State has already clinched the conference championship.

USC's defense was as effective as Knight. The Trojans have allowed only one touchdown in the last three games. However, the Bears haven't even scored a touchdown in their last three games.

Things are going so bad for the Bears that they even lost their freshman quarterback, Troy Taylor, on the last series of the game.

Cal was driving for that elusive touchdown in the final minute when Taylor was hit while releasing a completed pass to wide receiver James Devers for 22 yards and a first down on the USC 15-yard line.

Taylor suffered a broken jaw and a mild concussion and will miss Cal's last game against Stanford next Saturday. The Bears didn't even get a touchdown out of it.

Brad Howe, making his first appearance in a game this season, threw a second-down pass that was intercepted by USC linebacker Mike Serpa in the end zone. Lo, the poor Bears.

It seems as if redemption comes for Knight late in a season. Take last year, for example. He was alternating with Fred Crutcher at the outset of the season and then went all the way down in the depth chart to the No. 4 tailback spot.

But he was a starting tailback against Washington late in the season and was a factor in USC's 17-13 upset win over UCLA.

He is likely to be "the man" again against the Bruins because USC Coach Ted Tollner isn't sure whether Emanuel will be able to play. He was in street clothes Saturday night.

Emanuel has a sprained big toe, and even though Tollner says the sophomore tailback has a high threshold of pain, the injury has hindered him. Webster is still bothered by an ankle injury that sidelined him most of last season.

"Ryan ran hard and was aggressive from the first snap," Tollner said. "He knew he was the only guy we had, and it was as aggressive a job of running since he's been here. It was a consistent, outstanding performance."

Knight met the media wearing a T-shirt with lettering that said, "Strength of body, power of mind."

The sturdily-built tailback, who bench presses 425 pounds, seems to live by this motto.

"I was definitely let down when Aaron became the starting tailback," Knight said. "I had worked very hard during the summer, and even though I was not starting, I was determined to get better and that my time would come."

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