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Latest Tailback Is a Freshman as Lockwood Gets Call for USC

September 19, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

USC is back on national television for the second time in two weeks and, perhaps, the Trojans will have their act together this time.

They certainly weren't impressive in losing to Michigan State, 27-13, Sept. 7 in a game in which USC self-destructed with fumbles, interceptions and dropped passes.

It's the home opener at the Coliseum for USC, and today's opponent, Boston College, is on a roll. The Eagles (2-0) have won 10 straight games, the nation's second-longest winning streak, that began Oct. 11, 1986. The game will be televised by ABC, beginning at 12:30.

The Trojans have a streak of their own, but they aren't advertising it. USC lost its last three games in 1986 under Ted Tollner and, with new Coach Larry Smith getting off to a losing start, USC would tie a school record if it loses today.

The 1957 team lost five straight games, an all-time low, while struggling through a 1-9 season.

It isn't fair, though, to burden Smith with past failures. He has enough to worry about right now.

The most pressing problem, it would seem, is to develop a productive running game. Yes, we're talking about USC, sometimes referred to as Tailback U.

Smith has apparently inherited Tollner's problem in this regard. Tailback Ryan Knight gained only 53 yards in 19 carries, and the team averaged only 1.9 yards per rush against Michigan State.

Moreover, 28 pitch, USC's staple sweep play, was ditched against MSU because Smith said that Knight didn't have the speed to go outside.

Smith previously indicated that he would make some changes and he did that Friday when he said that freshman Scott Lockwood, from Boulder, Colo., would start at tailback.

Another freshman, Ricky Ervins, and junior Steven Webster will play in the first half, Smith said, and Knight, a senior, will get some playing time at fullback and, possibly, tailback.

"The main reason that Scott is starting is because he's had more repetitions at the position in practice," Smith said.

Ervins, from Muir High in Pasadena, was recently moved from fullback to tailback. Webster was the No. 1 tailback coming out of spring practice, but a summer ankle injury prevented him from playing against Michigan State.

So there's a committee at tailback as there was during the Tollner regime. Lockwood is the first freshman to start at tailback for USC since Charles White replaced an injured Ricky Bell against Stanford in 1976.

White gained 136 yards in 23 carries and scored 2 touchdowns as USC won, 48-24. Three years later, White was a Heisman Trophy winner.

When the Trojans set passing records for attempts, 47, and completions, 29, as they did against the Spartans, you know they're in trouble. That's not the traditional way they've operated.

Moreover, the quarterback, Rodney Peete, and his receivers become the focal point of the offense. In the past, coaches, such as John Robinson, only required the quarterback to be efficient, throwing just enough to keep defenses loose, while playing second banana to the tailback.

As of now, USC doesn't have a balanced attack. Peete, while assuming the offensive load, made his share of mistakes against Michigan State. He fumbled three times, losing one, and threw two interceptions.

Smith said that two of the fumbles weren't Peete's fault, adding that Peete made six extra special plays.

"Rodney, like a lot of our players, was just trying to make something happen," Smith said. "He didn't cost us the game."

Smith said he couldn't fault his team's effort, or physical condition in the opener, but lack of execution on offense was mainly responsible for the defeat.

USC was inside Michigan State's 30-yard line six times but came away with only 13 points.

"I don't think Michigan State is a great team and that doesn't mean that we're a terrible team, or a good team," Smith said. "We just need a win."

USC would be better off in that regard if it were playing, say, Utah State, rather than Boston College.

The Eagles are a passing team, but, unlike the Trojans, that's their trademark and they're proficient at it. They've also displayed some balance in opening wins over Texas Christian and Temple.

For example, senior tailback Jim Bell gained 182 yards against Temple.

Mike Power, a junior, is regarded as a strong-armed, but inexperienced, quarterback. There's nothing wrong with his numbers, though, as he has completed 53.8% of his passes for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first two games.

His primary receiver is Darren Flutie, brother of Boston College's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Doug Flutie. Darren, a flanker, is averaging 23.2 yards on 11 catches while scoring 3 touchdowns. Split end Tom Waddle is averaging 24.3 yards on 7 receptions.

It has been said that BC's sophisticated passing game is comparable to Brigham Young's.

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