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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: BOWL WEEK : A Labor Day Lament: Trojans Just Weren't Together in First Game

December 29, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

Mark Carrier probably would like to forget the first game he ever played for USC. But he is being reminded of it this week.

A redshirt freshman, who missed the 1986 season because of a broken foot, Carrier was the starting free safety Sept. 7 against Michigan State at East Lansing, Mich., in a Labor Day nationally televised special at night.

The game wasn't very special, though, for Carrier and the Trojans, who were beaten, 27-13.

USC will get an opportunity for redemption New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl game, and, perhaps, the frustration it endured in September will finally be forgotten.

"For one thing, I remember that my jersey was stolen and I was wearing an unfamiliar number, 19," said Carrier, who is usually identified by No. 7. "I played probably my worst game. I had a badly sprained ankle and I hobbled around the field. I couldn't plant. I could barely move.

"I get upset with myself every time I look at that film because I shouldn't have played. That's in the past now, and I have a chance to redeem myself."

Carrier and his teammates say they weren't together as a team almost four months ago, although they emphasize that Michigan State deserved to win.

It was not only the opening game of the season for the Trojans, but the first for Coach Larry Smith and his staff.

"It was our lack of knowing the coaches and their philosophy and them knowing us," Carrier said. "There wasn't the cohesiveness there compared to the UCLA game, now that we know each other real well. We knew it would take some time to get together."

Quarterback Rodney Peete concurred.

"It was kind of a weird situation," he said. "It was the first time we were all together, and maybe we tried a little too hard.

"I know I did. I tried to win the game by myself. I learned a valuable lesson from that: Be patient and don't try for the big play all the time."

Said Smith: "They didn't know what to expect from us and we didn't know what to expect from them. They didn't know what to expect in the locker room before the game, at halftime, or the end of the game."

Smith gave his players a passing grade for effort, but little else.

The Trojans took themselves out of the game in the second half with five turnovers, three inside of Michigan State's 21-yard line and two in USC territory. The breakdown:

--With USC trailing, 10-6, Peete lost a fumble at his 25 early in the third quarter, and Michigan State soon scored to improve its lead to 17-6.

"I hit our guard pulling out," Peete said. "It was my fault. I didn't pull the ball in."

--USC had a first down at the Michigan State 13 when freshman tailback Marcus Hopkins fumbled to the Spartans. Hopkins was injured later, and USC is petitioning the Pacific 10 Conference for a redshirt season on his behalf.

--Peete threw an interception on second down from the Michigan State 20.

--Scott Lockwood, another freshman tailback, threw an interception on first and goal from the Michigan State five.

--Peete had his third turnover with an interception from the USC 24 and the Spartans extended their lead to 27-6 on a field goal.

It must be pointed out, though, that Michigan State had three turnovers but still prevailed.

For the game, USC had 15 drives, 9 inside the Michigan State 40 but came away with only one touchdown and two field goals.

The Trojans couldn't contain quarterback Bobby McAllister on key downs, nor were they prepared for his ability to run.

"McAllister didn't play much the year before," Carrier said. "His rolling out caught us off guard. We weren't really prepared for that. We had (linebacker) Marcus Cotton dropping, which wasn't the right thing to do because he didn't know whether it was a pass or a run. So that gave McAllister more room at the corner.

"Lorenzo White is a great running back and he got 111 yards, but he was pretty much stifled in the second half--44 yards. McAllister had 63 yards in 15 carries, however, and that's a lot for a non-option quarterback.

"He also has a dangerous receiver in Andre Rison, who caught a 44-yard bomb, which happened to be the longest catch against us all season. When they need to go downfield, they can do it."

USC has changed some of its personnel since that game.

Ryan Knight, a starting tailback in September, is now a reserve at tailback and fullback. Erik Affholter, USC's leading receiver, with 42 catches for 632 yards, had a shoulder injury and caught only 1 pass for 13 yards.

John Guerrero, a starting offensive tackle now, wasn't getting playing much. Smith said Guerrero, who reported for practice at 350 pounds, weighs less than 320 and is a more confident player.

Scott Ross, a freshman, has since replaced Delmar Chesley as a starting inside linebacker.

Steven Webster, the Pacific 10's leading ground gainer, missed the Michigan State game with a sprained ankle. And he'll miss Friday's game because he is recovering from knee surgery.

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