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Morton Has Praise for His Quarterback : College football: He lauds Johnson after scoring three touchdowns and setting school record by catching 15 passes.

September 05, 1993|MIKE DOWNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Johnnie Morton messed up one thing all day--the name of the Houston quarterback. He meant to mention Jimmy Klingler, the NCAA's leading passer of last season. Instead, he said David Klingler, who is Jimmy's older brother and now quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals.

But the quarterback whose name the USC wide receiver wanted everybody to get right was his own, the man who threw to him--and threw to him, and threw to him--in Saturday's 49-7 runaway over Houston at the Coliseum.

"Other quarterbacks get all the talk," Morton said Saturday after scoring three touchdowns and setting a school record by catching 15 passes. "But as far as Rob Johnson is concerned, I just want to say that I think he's the best quarterback in the Pac-10 and one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

"David Klingler came in here today as one of the top passers in the game, but I think Rob showed him up."

Jimmy Klingler. . . .

"Oops. Sorry," Morton said.

One word that Morton had to use only once was oops. This was a game that the 6-foot, 190-pound senior from Torrance had cleanly in the palms of his hands, and by the time it was over, even Houston wide receiver Sherman Smith had to come over and shake his sticky fingers.

Morton said the Cougar receiver was "kind of happy for me," knowing how it felt to catch so many footballs on a single afternoon. In Houston's final game of last season, Klingler (Jimmy) had passed for a whopping 613 yards and seven touchdowns against Rice, and in the process helped his high school teammate, Smith, become the nation's leading receiver.

Smith caught 103 passes last season. Morton? Only 49.

After a hot start, with Morton grabbing three touchdown passes in the season opener against San Diego State, it turned out that the best Morton could do was tie for the team's lead in receptions. And he came into this season with only 113 catches in three years, which is only 10 more than Houston's Smith had in one season.

No wonder Johnnie was so anxious upon the hiring of John Robinson as coach. He openly speculated afterward that his usefulness as USC's deep threat might be numbered, what with Robinson's reputation.

Reminded of how worried he was, Morton nodded after Saturday's game and said: "To be honest, I was. Very worried. When I heard that Coach Robinson was being hired, I knew we were going back to a running tradition. I thought maybe I'd have to take a back seat from now on. You know, have to do a lot of blocking."

His fears were only partially allayed during the season opener against North Carolina, in which Morton caught only four passes.

"Kind of a nothing game," he called it.

It included a beauty of a touchdown catch that was called back because of a penalty. But the only thing that was called back Saturday was the defensive secondary to the Houston sideline, where each defensive back must have been turning to one another and saying: "Somebody stop that guy."

The Cougars utilized man-to-man coverage instead of a zone, to Morton's eternal gratitude.

"I really respect a team for doing that," he said. "I don't see that much man defense. I don't think I'll be seeing it at Penn State."

Morton lost track of how many catches he had Saturday, he had so many. At halftime, figuring he had maybe a half dozen, Morton was astonished to discover he had 11.

Had he ever caught 15 in a game before?

"Nope. Never," Morton said. "Not in high school, third grade, anything."

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