USC put its offense into the hands of a new leader Wednesday, when Coach Larry Smith announced that sophomore Rob Johnson will be the starting quarterback when USC opens the season against San Diego State on Sept. 5 at San Diego.
Junior Reggie Perry, a starter in all but one game during the Trojans' 3-8 season last fall, will be Johnson's backup.
Perry, naturally, was disappointed, but he said Johnson deserves the promotion. He said Johnson took the job from him last spring.
"He just went out and executed the offense better than I did," Perry said. "The door was wide open, and the one who executed best was the one who was going to be on the field."
That was Johnson, a 6-foot-4 right-hander from El Toro High and the younger brother of former UCLA quarterback Bret Johnson.
"In fall camp, I've done really well," Johnson said. "I just picked up where I left off in spring, so I feel I'm ready to go."
Smith said he thinks so, too.
"He's done an excellent job and had a very fine preseason," Smith said. "He is throwing the ball and running the team quite well. Rob deserves to be the No. 1 guy, and he's going to be the No. 1 guy."
Smith said that Johnson was named the starter only for the opening game, but added: "Rob will be given a great chance to show that it's his (job) all the way."
Johnson played in only three games as a freshman last fall, completing 19 of 36 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions.
In his only start--he was the first true freshman to start at quarterback for USC in the post-World War II era--Johnson completed 10 of 20 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions, during a 31-14 defeat against Arizona.
Perry, meanwhile, endured a trying season after being thrust into the starting role when former USC quarterback Todd Marinovich gave up his final two years of eligibility to make himself available for the NFL draft.
A veteran of only three snaps before last season, Perry completed 51.4% of his 255 passes for 1,574 yards and only three touchdowns, with 12 interceptions.
His passing efficiency rating was eighth in the Pac-10, and the Trojans suffered through their worst season in 35 years.
Asked if he thinks the blame for USC's poor season has been laid at his feet, Perry said: "In some ways I do, but in some ways I don't. The quarterback is the leader of the team, so when you lose, it's going to be on his shoulders."
Perry said that he did not play well during spring practice, allowing Johnson to move past him on the depth chart.
Johnson, he said, clearly outplayed him.
"I like the way Rob goes out," Perry said. "He's a confident person. Everybody thinks he's young, but he's mature beyond his years."
Smith said that he is not concerned about Johnson's lack of experience.
"Every time but one, he went in and did some pretty good things," Smith said. "He had a tough go in the Arizona game, but against Cal, against Washington, he played very, very well."
And last spring, and again during preseason camp, he outplayed the more experienced Perry.
"His percentage of completion was a little higher, he got the ball to the big-play people and his third-down efficiency was the best of the two," Smith said.
That made him a starter.