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Trojans Easily Outpoint Bears in a Big Numbers Game, 31-14

September 27, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — USC beat California, 31-14, as expected Saturday at Memorial Stadium, but the game couldn't be classified as routine.

How often does a game include an 89-yard punt, a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown or a 98-yard scoring drive.

Such plays spiced a victory for USC (2-1) in the conference opener against Cal (1-3) on a clear, warm day in Strawberry Canyon.

Cal's Scott Tabor put on an awesome punting exhibition, booming kicks over the head of USC's Randy Tanner. His 89-yard punt set a Pacific 10 record and he averaged 55.6 yards on 9 kicks.

USC strong safety Cleveland Colter countered Tabor by intercepting a pass thrown by Cal quarterback Troy Taylor and carrying it 94 yards to a touchdown in the third quarter.

His touchdown provided the Trojans with a 21-7 advantage, and they didn't look back. In fact, USC scored 31 straight points after Cal opened a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Colter's run wasn't record-breaking. Bud Langley holds the USC record with a 99-yard interception return against Notre Dame in 1936.

If there was a turning point in the game, USC Coach Larry Smith suggested that it was a 98-yard scoring drive that pulled the Trojans into a 7-7 tie.

The Trojans had to go almost the length of the field because Tabor's 89-yard punt didn't stop rolling until it settled on the USC two-yard line.

For a while in the first quarter, USC seemed bent on self-destructing with error after error.

"We stuttered at the start," Smith said. "I told the team that we had to start fast, but we didn't do it."

It was USC's defense that took control of the game after Taylor moved the Bears 52 yards to a touchdown midway through the first quarter.

Cornerback Greg Coauette made a rolling, diving interception of a Taylor pass in the second quarter.

"I might have been able to run with it," Coauette said, "but I just wanted to hold onto the ball. It was my first interception since I played for Glendale College."

The turnover placed USC at the Cal 23-yard-line. Quarterback Rodney Peete wasted little time in getting the touchdown. He spotted Tanner clear over the middle, and the flanker made a difficult catch at the goal line with Cal cornerback John Hardy draped all over him.

The touchdown gave USC a 14-7 lead with only 1:23 remaining in the second quarter.

"I was supposed to run a wheel pattern, going behind Ken Henry, who was going down the sideline," Tanner said. "But their safety was up in a blitz position, so I went right down the middle of the field, and Rodney read the play."

Taylor is regarded as a gifted sophomore quarterback. But he was rattled by the USC defense most of the day.

The Trojans sacked him four times, defensive tackle Dan Owens getting him twice. Owens also deflected two of Taylor's passes.

"The defensive line played an exceptional game," said USC outside linebacker Marcus Cotton, "and they did it playing the normal defense, no stunts. Our (defensive backs) also did a great job of coverage."

Taylor, who was fourth ranked nationally in passing efficiency coming into the game, had his problems. He threw three interceptions while completing 18 of 33 passes for 166 yards.

Peete was more efficient. He hasn't thrown an interception since a 27-13 loss to Michigan State Sept. 7 the season-opener. He completed 15 of 24 passes for 235 yards and ran for a 9-yard touchdown on an option play in the fourth quarter to make it 31-7.

"Our offense is much more balanced now, and I had more than enough time to pass, the protection was that good," Peete said.

Tailback Steven Webster is contributing to that balance. He gained 119 yards in a 23-17 win over Boston College last week and added 109 Saturday, averaging 4.4 yards.

He cut back to score from the six-yard line to end the 98-yard drive in the first quarter.

"We've got to suck it up. That's what your energy is for," Peete told his teammates in the huddle at the outset of the drive.

Peete then laughed and said, "When the drive was over, our center, John Katnik, said to me, 'Let's not do that again.' "

Smith considered the drive a turning point because it took several minutes off the clock.

Before that, the Trojans were bumbling. Some miscues:

--Chris Sperle shanked a punt only seven yards out of bounds to position Cal for its first scoring drive.

--Tanner wasn't in position to field a punt by Tabor, the ball rolling dead at the USC 15 after it covered 66 yards.

--A recovery of a muffed punt by USC's Mike Serpa at the Cal 28 was wasted. Tight end Paul Green incurred an offensive pass interference penalty on third down and the Trojans were taken out of field goal range and had to punt.

Peete also said that the Trojans stopped themselves with penalties. USC was penalized 11 times for 83 yards compared to 4 for 28 yards for California.

Tanner, who caught 3 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, was smiling in the locker room later. But he wasn't smiling when Tabor's howitzer kicks were booming over his head.

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