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MIKE DOWNEY

Trojans Enjoy a Blast From the Pass

September 05, 1993|MIKE DOWNEY

One of the reasons they moved the seats so much closer to the action here at Wide Receiver U. was so that the Coliseum throngs could come out and view the USC passing combination of Rob Johnson to Johnnie Morton, as opposed to some wild and unsubstantiated rumor that the new Trojan coach intended to hammer the old oblong up the middle 30 times a game.

Footballs were flying like Frisbees in front of 49,438 Saturday as the home team's quarterback found Heeeere's Johnnie Morton time after time to burn a Houston team that has now given up 34 or more points in seven consecutive games and is in desperate need of Buddy Ryan.

Here at the historic ruins where everyone from Jesse Owens to O.J. Simpson to Traveler the horse once came to run, there was no sign of the game of rushing roulette that John Robinson promised to restore upon his return. Oh, there was a hard-bodied freshman by way of Texas name of Shawn Walters who came along to bolt for two touchdowns against them Houston boys, but by and large the folks went home talking about Johnson-to-Morton and trying to forget that that ugly North Carolina thing ever happened.

As Johnson said: "I knew that last week's game just didn't go our way, that we could still be a great team."

Maybe, maybe not. More on that later, particularly after the Trojans resume play against teams that take the art of defense a lot more seriously than the Houston Cougars. For now, though, the important thing is that USC has gotten a little of its pride back, and a little of its confidence back, and that the new fixer-upper Coliseum appears to be a pretty friendly place.

It had been a horrid week for new coach, veteran players, enthusiastic freshmen and alarmed alumni alike. Everything that could have gone wrong in a season opener did go wrong, from the team embarrassing itself on national television to suffering the further indignity of being called "Southern Cal" throughout the telecast by announcers Steve Physioc and Dave Rowe, who at no time referred to the other side as North Car.

Robinson described his team in that game as "either confused or whatever." He had only six days to either un-confuse them or whatever, and speculated that there was little doubt among the coaches on his staff that the players would, indeed, come around by kickoff Saturday because: "We'd have shot them all if they hadn't."

The day began with poor Traveler galloping out and going: "Whoa! Where the heck did my track go?" But the field itself was still 100 yards long and of great concern to USC was keeping the Houston quarterback, Jimmy Klingler, from doing anything crazy like, oh, passing for seven touchdowns, which is exactly what he did against Rice in last season's final game.

This would not sit well with the posse of native Texans who happen to have roamed out west to USC to play their football--among them linebackers Brian Williams and Shannon Jones, defensive end Thomas Holland and defensive backs John Herpin, Micah Phillips and Reggie Perry--who did not want word getting back to their loved ones in Texas that they had become California wimps.

Hardly. These people put Klingler in so much distress that they shooed him off the grass by the fourth quarter and sent for reinforcements. By game's end, Matt Butkus had gotten the Cougar backup quarterback's vote for the Butkus Award and within minutes Donn Cunnigan had chased this same passer halfway to El Paso.

Everybody got into the act. Several different rushers got a crack at carrying the ball and Tyler Cashman, who closed last week's unhappy game with a touchdown catch, began this week's happy one with another. On the offensive line, Tony (Who's the Boss?) Boselli tossed would-be tacklers like salads and Bad Bad Rory Brown threw a monstrous block to spring Walters for a touchdown.

But if anything at the home opener proved to be an eye-opener, it was the hookup between Johnson and Morton, doing exactly the same thing--three touchdowns--that it did a year ago in the opener against San Diego State. There are two starting cornerbacks from Houston named John H. Brown and John W. Brown who ought to be so ashamed of their coverage Saturday that they might consider calling themselves John H. and John W. Doe.

Then again, it isn't easy playing defense against a passing school like USC. This was a very good day for the Trojans and next week against Penn State they might even run the ball now and then.

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