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USC Is Hoping to Draw Line at Penn State : College football: The Trojans' offensive front figures to face a major test in the Nittany Lions' defense.

September 11, 1993|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — In what optimists on both sides hope could be a preview of the Rose Bowl, USC and Penn State meet this afternoon before about 95,000 at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State is already 1-0 in its inaugural Big Ten race, having dumped Minnesota last Saturday, 38-20.

USC lost its opener to North Carolina, 31-9, but seemed to right itself last Saturday with a 49-7 victory over Houston.

Penn State followers are concerned that their team's defense might not be up to thwarting the USC offense that rolled up 530 yards against Houston.

Penn State's first Big Ten game looked good on the scoreboard, but even Coach Joe Paterno was concerned that lowly Minnesota could run off 112 plays against the Nittany Lions, including 66 passes by quarterback Tim Schade. And Penn State's defense didn't get a sack as Schade completed 34 of 66 for 478 yards.

What does that portend for today, when the Trojans' quarterback, Rob Johnson, arrives with a 75% completion mark and a superior team in front of him?

Others, however, recall other high-profile quarterbacks who had productive days against Penn State but were left empty-handed. For example, in 1982, Doug Flutie of Boston College had 520 yards passing against the Nittany Lions--and lost, 52-17.

One reason: Much as USC's trademark is Heisman-grade tailbacks such as Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen, Penn State is known for linebackers such as Jack Ham, Denny Onkotz, Shane Conlan and Ed O'Neil.

But the USC tailback picture is the same as it was after last weekend: muddled.

Freshmen David Dotson and Shawn Walters are the contenders, along with sophomore Scott Fields.

Dotson will make his second consecutive start, with Fields at backup this week. Dotson has been solid and steady, and Robinson likes his running instincts. Fields has fumbled three times in two games.

"Scott has to solve that problem because he brings toughness and effort to our running game," Robinson said.

Walters broke a 54-yard run in USC's victory over Houston, but it didn't impress his coach. "All that showed me was that he can run 40 yards without stopping," Robinson said, shrugging. "I told him when he does that and ricochets off tacklers, I'll be impressed."

Robinson added that he has been so impressed with Deon Strother's play at fullback that he is tempted to move him back to tailback. A senior, Strother was a starter at tailback in five games two years ago.

"Deon is a great blocker, he runs hard and he can catch the ball," Robinson said.

Meanwhile, Paterno viewed film of USC's opening loss to North Carolina and seemed as stumped as Robinson was two weeks ago.

"Southern Cal seemed tired, almost dispirited against North Carolina--why, I don't know," he said. "They seemed to have a lot more bounce against Houston."

Robinson agreed.

"We'd just come off a hard training camp, and after Dwight McFadden broke his ankle (in the first quarter against North Carolina), we went kind of numb, including me," he said.

The coaches also agree that the key matchup today will be the Trojan offensive line against Penn State's defensive front.

Said Paterno: "Southern Cal's offensive line is a great pass-blocking unit, but I'm most impressed by what those big kids do when they're on the move. They can really run when they pull. (Left tackle Tony) Boselli is outstanding."

Left guard Joel Crisman was listed by USC as questionable because of a sprained foot, but he seemed to move well in practice.

About 40 Trojans had at least touches of flu this week--including defensive coordinator Don Lindsey and Athletic Director Mike Garrett--but nearly all players were reported to be sound Friday.

It rained early Friday, but clear skies are predicted today.

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