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It's Not Oregon State Smith Is Worried About, It's USC

October 03, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

It would be easier for USC Coach Larry Smith to prepare his football team for tonight's Coliseum game with Oregon State if the Beavers hadn't lost to Texas last week, 61-16.

Smith also has to reckon with the fact that USC beat Oregon State, 63-0, in 1985, the last time the teams met.

Tonight's game would appear to be a mismatch, but sometimes strange things happen.

The Beavers of 1985, for example, came off that loss to USC and another to Washington State, 34-0, then went into Seattle to play mighty Washington. The Beavers won, 21-20, in a startling upset.

Oregon State Coach Dave Kragthorpe genuinely believed that his team, now 1-2, had a chance to beat Texas, since the Longhorns are no longer a college football power, having lost four straight games dating back to 1986 before they routed the Beavers.

"We just stunk the place up," Kragthorpe said.

Smith anticipates that Oregon State will be trying to atone for the Texas debacle, but he is more concerned about his own team and how it performs, regardless of the opposition.

So where do the Trojans (2-1) stand after three games? Is there enough talent to win the Pacific 10 championship, or are they a notch below the better teams in the Pacific 10?

"I don't worry about talent," Smith said. "To me, it's how it develops. If we become a top 10 team by the end of the season, I'd say it's pretty good talent. It's just too early to tell.

"We're a very average football team right now. I think that we're one of the 20 through 80 teams in the country trying to be among the top 20." Barring an upset by Oregon State, more will be learned about the Trojans in the following three weeks, when they play Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame in successive road games.

There are encouraging signs for Smith, though, after the season opener when USC self-destructed with five turnovers and dropped touchdown passes while losing to Michigan State, 27-13. The Spartans haven't won a game since.

With tailback Steven Webster no longer favoring a sprained ankle, quarterback Rodney Peete doesn't have to assume the entire offensive burden. Webster, who missed the Michigan State game, has gained 228 yards in 49 carries for a 4.7-yard average.

Peete, a junior, has completed 62.8% of his passes this season for 712 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has also thrown 2 interceptions, none since the opening game.

USC is leading the Pac-10 in total offense, averaging 427.3 yards a game.

The defensive line, inexperienced last year, is playing more effectively. It's still a young unit, though, as tackles Tim Ryan and Dan Owens are sophomores and nose guard Dan Gibson is a red-shirt freshman.

USC ranks third in the Pac-10 in total defense, allowing an average of 310 yards a game.

Smith's secondary will get a workout tonight. Oregon State is the self-proclaimed Air Express with junior quarterback Erik Wilhelm executing a ball-control passing game.

The left-hander had one of his worst games against Texas. He threw 2 interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and completed only 17 of 37 passes.

Still, his numbers for the season are impressive. He is the league's top-rated passer, averaging 288.6 yards a game. He has thrown four touchdown passes and isn't the least reluctant to throw. He is averaging 45 passes a game.

The Beavers, though, can't seem to stop anybody from scoring, having allowed an average of 45.3 points a game.

Trojan Notes

Coach Larry Smith said that split end Ken Henry, who had shoulder surgery last Sunday, may return to the lineup sooner than expected. "Ken says he'll be ready for the Washington game (Oct. 17), but it's more realistic to believe that he'll be back for Notre Dame (Oct. 24)," Smith said. . . . Smith said Henry's injury would have been minor if he hadn't been playing on artificial turf. "You can have it," Smith said. "When Henry went down against Cal, his shoulder stuck in the turf. On regular ground there would have been some give, and he'd slide." . . . Oregon State fullback Brian Taylor is ranked fourth nationally in all-purpose running, averaging 188.7 yards. Tight end Phil Ross is Erik Wilhelm's primary receiver. He has caught 23 passes for 267 yards and ranks second in the Pac-10. . . . Oregon State hasn't beaten USC since 1967, when it scored a 3-0 victory at Corvallis. Ore. . . . OSU's last win here was in 1960. That 14-0 Beaver victory came in the USC coaching debut of John McKay. . . . Jim Sears, a former USC All-American halfback, will be honored after the first quarter of tonight's game.

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