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Tar Heel Linemen Dig In, Trojans Can't Budge Them


ANAHEIM — USC quarterback Rob Johnson had all but forgotten it.

Trojan wide receiver Tyler Cashman put it behind him.

So did center Craig Gibson.

But Sunday night, memories of USC's 24-7 loss to Fresno State in last year's Freedom Bowl came rushing back to the Trojans' offense.

Only this time, USC didn't get stuck in the mud as it did at a rain-soaked Anaheim Stadium in December.

It just got stuck.

North Carolina's defense held USC's offense to 268 yards total offense, including only 101 rushing, in a 31-9 Tar Heel victory in the Disneyland Pigskin Classic.

"North Carolina is a great defensive team," Johnson said. "Its front seven is pretty tough, and it did a great job on us."

By the end of the third quarter, North Carolina had outrushed USC, 221 yards to 52.

Most of USC's rushing yards came on the Trojans' final possession of the game, a 71-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Cashman. USC averaged only 4.32 yards per play to North Carolina's 6.28.

It has happened to USC before. Fresno State shut out the Trojans in the second half in last year's bowl game, limiting them to 183 yards total offense, including 88 rushing.

Said Gibson, a senior and former El Modena High standout: "You really can't compare the two games. We put last year's loss behind us. We just went out and got beat up tonight."

Cashman, a redshirt sophomore from Los Alamitos, agreed.

"We came in with a clean slate this year," said Cashman, who caught six passes for 41 yards. "There was really no talk of last year's game. We came in ready tonight."

At least the passing game did.

Johnson, a junior and former El Toro High standout, completed 21 of 28 passes for 167 yards with no interceptions.

But he failed to do what North Carolina quarterback Jason Stanicek did so effectively--move his team within the opponents' 20-yard line. Stanicek's late pitches on option plays helped four Tar Heel running backs score on runs inside the Trojan 20.

Johnson said the Trojans' offensive problems started when "their (Tar Heels') defense got on top of us in the first half."

Johnson also pointed out two costly offensive mistakes by the Trojans in the second quarter, when they were trailing, 7-0:

--His 16-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Morton with 8 minutes 51 seconds left that could have tied the score, but was called back because the Trojans had an illegal receiver downfield.

--A pass attempt to Cashman that was swatted away at the line of by North Carolina's Austin Robbins with 4:01 left in the quarter. Cashman appeared to have a clear path to the end zone.

"If that ball wouldn't have been tipped," Johnson said. "It would have gone for a touchdown."

Gibson didn't cite specific plays when talking about the Trojans' offense. He blamed the entire offense for the loss.

"North Carolina didn't do anything defensively that we didn't prepare for," he said. "All 11 of us didn't execute. We can't point fingers at anyone but ourselves."

He offered no excuses, either.

"In every football game you can say there were some bad breaks," Gibson said. "But what really matters is what's left on the scoreboard at the end of the game."

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