It seems that USC tailback Steven Webster wasn't destined to play against Michigan State this season.
Webster missed the season opener Sept. 7 that the Spartans won, 27-13, because of a sprained ankle.
Now he'll miss the Rose Bowl game Jan. 1 against Michigan State. He underwent surgery Sunday at Huntington Memorial Hospital to repair ligament damage to his left knee.
Webster suffered the injury against UCLA Saturday on the last play of the first quarter. It was a modest three-yard gain. The Trojans went on to beat the Bruins, 17-13, in their Rose Bowl showdown game.
"That's a big loss for us," USC Coach Larry Smith said. "Steven has had a super season and he has been one of the main cogs of our offensive attack. He'll really be missed, but I'm confident whoever replaces him will do a good job."
Smith identified either freshmen Scott Lockwood or Ricky Ervins, or senior Ryan Knight as the replacements for Webster.
When Webster went down against UCLA, Lockwood and Ervins alternated at tailback. Lockwood was hampered by leg cramps and a cut on his forehead.
Knight was used only as a reserve fullback. He fumbled to UCLA while trying to score on a fourth-and-one play at the goal line in the second quarter.
For the season, Lockwood has gained 192 yards in 36 carries for a 5.2 average while scoring 5 touchdowns. Ervins has gained 135 yards, a 3.9 average, and scored 1 touchdown.
Knight was the starting tailback against Michigan State in the opening game. Then he became a backup fullback behind Leroy Holt. He has gained 118 yards for a 3.4 average.
If either Lockwood or Ervins start against Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, it will be the first time a USC freshman tailback has played a prominent role in that game since 1977.
That is when Ricky Bell was knocked unconscious on the first series and replaced by Charles White, who went on to gain 114 yards in 32 carries as USC won, 14-6, over Michigan.
Webster this year became the 17th USC running back to gain 1,000 or more yards in a season. He finishes with 1,109 yards in 239 carries, a 4.6 average, and 6 touchdowns.
He also wound up as the Pacific 10's leading rusher, averaging 110.9 yards a game.
USC's game with Michigan State in the Rose Bowl will be the fifth time that teams have met in a rematch of a regular season game.
Iowa beat Oregon State, 14-13, in 1956 and then won the Rose Bowl game, 35-19. UCLA lost to Michigan State, 13-3, in 1965 and then won the Rose Bowl game, 14-12. UCLA was beaten by Ohio State, 41-20, in 1975, but won the Rose Bowl rematch, 23-10. And, in the 1982 season, the Bruins beat Michigan twice, 31-27, and 24-14.
Some USC players, notably offensive tackle Dave Cadigan, were disappointed that they didn't beat UCLA by a larger score. They were frustrated because of losing opportunities to score 31 additional points. Two touchdowns were nullified by penalties, Knight lost a fumble at the goal line, quarterback Rodney Peete threw an interception on first and goal at the UCLA five-yard line on the last play of the first half and Quin Rodriguez missed a 44-yard field goal. USC had another touchdown taken away by a penalty, but it scored on the same drive. . . . As for Peete, he saved a touchdown by forcing Eric Turner out of bounds at the four-yard line at the end of the first half. Turner's interception, if returned for a touchdown, could have changed the game markedly. . . . USC Coach Larry Smith said the defensive game plan was to put pressure on UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, who completed only 11 of 26 passes for 171 yards while throwing 3 interceptions. He had thrown only three interceptions in 10 previous games. "We made a commitment to go after Aikman with some blitzes," Smith said. "We couldn't let him sit back there and throw." . . . USC will be going to the Rose Bowl for an unprecedented 25th time. The Trojans have a 18-6 record. . . . Saturday's Coliseum crowd of 92,516 was the largest for a USC home game since 1965 when 94,085 watched UCLA beat USC, 20-16.