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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: BOWL WEEK : ROSE BOWL : Smith, a Former Midwesterner, Doesn't Buy Distraction Theory

December 30, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

The distractions of Southern California, such as Disneyland, Universal Studios and Lawry's, have often been cited by Big Ten Conference teams as a factor in losing to Pacific 10 teams in the Rose Bowl.

USC Coach Larry Smith, a native Midwesterner and a former offensive line coach for Michigan, doesn't believe that's a valid excuse.

"Distractions are what you make of them," he said.

Smith theorizes, though, that Michigan lost the 1970 game to USC, 10-3, because of excessive hard work.

"We came here 2 1/2 weeks before the game, and the first week and a half we had two-a-day practices," Smith said. "We got up in the morning at 6, had meetings at the hotel, then practiced for two hours.

"We went back to the hotel for more meetings, had lunch, a one-hour nap, more meetings, then went back to Citrus College for another practice in full pads."

Smith said that the schedule didn't lighten up until a few days before the game.

"It was amazing that we even got on the field that day. We basically wiped (the players) out, and our coach (Bo Schembechler) had a heart attack."

Smith also said that USC's Wild Bunch, the famed defensive front of that era, simply shut down the Wolverines. "They were so quick that we couldn't block them," he said.

As for the change in environment for a Midwest team, Smith said:

"Any time you come out from the Midwest, it's just totally different, regardless of what the weather is like. It's a different tempo, atmosphere, different everything.

"(USC's) football team is used to the mass media, used to having a lot of people around. They see it every day. I'm not sure what it's like back there.

"That's maybe what we're talking about. Not Disneyland, or Universal Studios. That's fun."

The Big Ten got in the habit of losing starting with that game in 1970. Pac-10 teams have won 16 of the last 18 Rose Bowl games.

Where are they? That's a problem USC's offensive line will try to solve against Michigan State's 4-3 stunting, fast-moving defense on New Year's Day.

"Their defense is basically designed to stop the run," said Dave Cadigan, USC's All-American offensive tackle. "The problem is that they're stunting everybody. They're very difficult to block. You line up on a guy one play and, suddenly, two guys are going in another direction.

"What you have to do is come up under control, go through your steps and look at the guy's number, not at his head fakes. You have to come off low, keep your feet moving and then come alive when you get a piece of him. Michigan State has fast, strong, confident and experienced players on defense."

It has been suggested that Big Ten teams, which play on synthetic surfaces in 9 of 10 conference stadiums, are slower once they get onto a grass field.

"I think the grass field will slow them down a little bit," Cadigan said, hopefully.

USC got an added bonus by beating UCLA Nov. 21 to get the Rose Bowl bid. The victory kept the Trojans out of the Sun Bowl on Christmas Day, where they were scheduled to play Oklahoma State if they had lost to the Bruins.

Oklahoma State played West Virginia instead at El Paso, Tex., where the sun gave way to snow flurries.

"I always thought it would be fun to play in the snow until I saw that game," said USC strong safety Cleveland Colter, adding that he had shuddered in his living room as he watched the game.

Said Cadigan: "It was too depressing to watch, so I turned to another channel."

Said Smith: "I watched that game on television and said a prayer and thanked Rodney Peete, Erik Affholter and our defense (for beating UCLA)."

Blackjack?

A Detroit radio station reporter asked Michigan State Coach George Perles if he thought it would take 21 points to win Friday's game?

"What do you think this is, Ping-Pong?" Perles replied. "You think we ought to quit when the first team gets to 21. We could score 21 and lose, and we could score less than that and win."

What a difference a year makes. Smith wasn't named USC's coach until Jan. 2 and recruiting was on hold while Ted Tollner was a lame duck coach through the Florida Citrus Bowl game.

"Last year when we came in, we had just 15 people scheduled for visits," Smith said. "But we're not having any trouble with people visiting us this year. It's not just California, it's people from all around the country.

"I think we'll do a better job of national recruiting for two reasons. One, our six-game exposure on national television. Also, because we're in the Rose Bowl. Everybody wants to visit a team that is playing in the big one."

Trojan Notes

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