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Holtz Speaks Nothing but Praise for USC : Notre Dame Coach Says Trojans Are One of the Better Teams in the Country

October 21, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

Frank Leahy, the famed Notre Dame coach of the '40s and early '50s, was renowned for building up opponents to the extent of absurdity.

Then, the unbeaten Irish would routinely squash the team that Leahy had touted as invincible.

Lou Holtz, the current Notre Dame coach, isn't as outlandish as Leahy, but he's learning.

In evaluating USC, or Southern Cal, as the school is called in the Midwest, Holtz didn't spare the superlatives on the team the Irish will play Saturday at South Bend, Ind.

Holtz, speaking twice Tuesday in conference calls, said among other things that the Trojans are one of the better football teams in the country and have a great chance to go to the Rose Bowl.

If USC, 4-2 overall, is among the better teams in the country, it's not reflected in the wire-service polls. The Trojans didn't make the top 20 this week.

As for going to the Rose Bowl, the Trojans have a chance, but not a particularly great one. They're in second place in the Pacific 10 with a 3-1 record behind UCLA (3-0) with four more conference games to play, including a date with the Bruins Nov. 21.

"Gerry Faust (Holtz's predecessor) called me last week and said he watched USC on film against Oregon State and told me they were a great football team," said Holtz, warming up to his assessment of the Trojans.

"Consequently, I got the USC film and I want to say this sincerely: USC is an outstanding football team. Their improvement the last five weeks has been dramatic and it has been consistent."

Consistent?

Michigan State beat USC in the season opener, 27-13. Then the favored Trojans beat Boston College, California and Oregon State before losing to underdog Oregon. USC rebounded last week by beating Washington in Seattle, 37-23.

More from Holtz:

"This is the best offensive team we've played by far. (Steven) Webster is one of the leading ballcarriers in the country. He's averaging almost 6 yards a carry (4.5), the offensive line is big and strong and the quarterback, Rodney Peete, is outstanding.

"The most impressive statistic about Peete is that he has lost only 37 yards while passing in six games, yet he throws the ball about 30 times (25) a game while averaging 245 (227.2) yards.

"USC throws the ball without ever paying the price. Peete never gets sacked (he has been sacked twice). That concerns me because we haven't been able to get close to a passer. We haven't been able to generate more than one turnover in the last 10 quarters."

Holtz then extolled Peete's peripheral vision, the strength of his arm, his quick release, accuracy and his ability to run the option, the lastest phase of USC's offense.

It wasn't all hyperbole, since USC ranks sixth nationally in total offense, averaging 454.7 yards a game, and Peete ranks ninth individually, averaging 241.5 yards.

Even though the Irish (4-1) are ranked 10th in both wire-service polls and are a touchdown favorite to beat the Trojans, you wouldn't get that impression listening to Holtz.

Asked if he perceived any weakness in USC and how he would exploit it, Holtz said: "Offensively, I see absolutely none. I can't think of a team in the country that gives you as many problems as Southern Cal will give you.

"Defensively, they're a little young and inexperienced, but they play so hard and have such great lateral movement. I think their secondary is exceptionally talented.

"That's why I think USC has a great chance to go to the Rose Bowl, because they play hard on every down with a great offense, a solid defense, a good kicking game and they have momentum."

The momentum, of course, is a one-game winning streak.

USC Coach Larry Smith said of Holtz's comments: "They're made of sugar and it melts in your mouth."

USC was penalized 13 times for 134 yards in the Washington game, incurring some personal foul infractions.

Smith said Tuesday that enough is enough.

"I won't tolerate those penalties--unnecessary roughness, late hitting and unsportsmanlike conduct. And, if we get any of those in the next game, the person who committed them, and I don't care who he is, will come out of the game.

"There is a right and wrong way to play football. The right way is to be intense between the two whistles. But when the play is over, you get your butt back into the huddle and get ready for the next play.

"There are two things I despise on a football field. One is unsportsmanlike conduct--shoving and pushing--and being a showboat.

Some of Washington's players singled out USC linebacker Marcus Cotton for talking excessively during the game. Asked to comment, Smith said:

"To me, anything I see on film, or in the game, I'm going to keep between that player and myself."

Trojan Notes

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