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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : Trojan Twosome Plots Defensive Capers Like Butch and Sundance

October 18, 1987|BILL DWYRE | Times Sports Editor

SEATTLE — Sometime early Saturday morning, when the alarm went off in his hotel room, Greg Coauette did what he always does to start the day of a USC road football game. He jumped on his roommate, shook him around to make sure he was good and awake, and kept jostling him long enough to communicate the pertinent point: It's game day, baby.

Now, that sort of treatment might be somewhat unsettling to some. But Coauette's roommate has little choice. Call it the price you pay for being a freshman. Or call it Big Brotherly love.

Coauette's roommate is Mark Carrier, 19, just a year out of Long Beach Poly High School. Saturday, Carrier played his sixth college game. Roommate Coauette is a senior, has been around the USC football wars since 1984 and will turn 23 Thursday.

So, like it or not--and Carrier does--the old guy has taken the young guy under his wing, showed him the collegiate football ropes, introduced him to life in the big time. Stretch a bit and you find some Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in this pair.

Whatever they are to each other off the field as road roomies, USC has been the beneficiary of that on the field. Saturday, when the Trojans won the biggest game yet in the Larry Smith coaching regime, 37-23 over Washington, defensive backs Coauette and Carrier were in the middle of the action all day.

In fact, these defensive backs could have been baseball relief pitchers Saturday, because each made a great save:

--Coauette made what Smith called afterward "the play that could well have been the biggest of the game" when he intercepted one of Chris Chandler's passes midway through the fourth period with the Huskies only one touchdown behind.

--Carrier, with still more than two minutes to play in the game and Washington a touchdown and an onside kick away from getting back into it, grabbed a streaking Husky receiver from behind, taking an interference penalty that cost 15 yards while saving a touchdown. His secondary coach, Bob April, said that the wide-open receiver, Darryl Franklin, wasn't Carrier's responsibility, that Carrier just came flying over from another zone and saved the day.

Also, as far as Washington was concerned, Coauette and Carrier were USC's Bobsey Twins Saturday.

In addition to their save-the-day plays, Coauette made seven tackles from his right cornerback position, and Carrier made six from his right safety spot. They also played key roles in the most exciting, and unusual, play of the day.

Early in the first period, Washington quarterback Chandler handed off to Aaron Jenkins, who slipped through the middle and was heading for excellent yardage when he ran into Carrier. Being no small pigeon, Carrier knocked Jenkins one way and the ball the other, the latter zipping directly back whence it came, to Chandler. Chandler took off down the right sideline and gained 54 yards before being caught from behind and tackled by, you guessed it, Coauette.

Stranger plays have occurred on the football field, but not many.

"I made the hit, then I heard this big roar from the crowd," Carrier said. "There I was, still flat on my back, and I saw Chandler running with the ball. And I said, 'How did he get the ball?' "

When told that Coauette had run down Chandler and made the tackle, Carrier shook his head knowingly. The translation was, "That figures." "My first impression of Greg, looking at him closely and knowing that he would be important to what I do on the field because we play so close on the same side all the time," Carrier said, "was that this was one real stud. He was strong and smart, and I knew I'd be just fine."

Coauette, fully aware in training camp before the season started that Carrier would be the backstop behind him at many crucial moments all season, kind of his own personal football goalie, was taking long looks, too.

"My first impression was that he was very confident," Coauette said. "It wasn't cocky. Just confident. He wasn't scared to be out there, to do what had to be done.

"I'll tell you something. If I had been in the position he is in now when I was his age, I couldn't have handled it. Certainly not like he is." So, this mutual admiration society has begun to pay big dividends on the field for USC, even though, on physical appearance and age differences alone, these two are really an odd couple. And, like any Oscar and Felix, they have their moments of disharmony.

Said Carrier: "He gets on me, stays on me about things. And I've told him that wakeup routine is gonna get his butt kicked one of these days."

Said Coauette: "I used to talk to him out on the field a lot more than I do now, but I still have to remind him of things. He's young. The worst play I've seen him make this year was last week against Oregon, when he had to choose between two receivers flooding his zone and he picked the wrong one."

But mostly, these two players, thrown together by close proximity of position on the football field and the psychology of Smith and his coaching staff in road roommate selections, like and respect each other a lot.

If Saturday was a true indication of things to come, this Coauette/Carrier pair could quickly become the toast of USC's '87 season. After all, they made the Huskies look like tea for two.

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