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USC Has Plenty in Reserve Otton and Wins, 27-19 : College football: He replaces injured Johnson and passes for 208 yards against Oregon State.


CORVALLIS, Ore. — Life and death with the Beavers.

That's the card USC's football team was dealt Saturday, and it responded with some big defensive plays and some solid offensive work by two backups, quarterback Brad Otton and tailback Rodney Sermons.

The result, before a near-capacity 33,892 at Parker Stadium, was a 27-19 comeback victory for the Trojans, one that puts them at 2-1 in the Pacific 10 (3-2 overall) going into next Saturday's game against Stanford.

And five games into the season, USC has finally found a big-play receiver to complement tailbacks Shawn Walters and Sermons--wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Johnson, a junior, had six catches for 139 yards and his 50-yard play in the third quarter set up what proved to be the winning touchdown.

It was Johnson's second 100-yard game.

USC needed a solid game from Otton, a sophomore transfer from Weber State who filled in for senior Rob Johnson, who sat out his first start in 29 games because of a sprained ankle.

USC's victory, its 21st in a row over Oregon State (0-3, 1-4), was expensive. Junior guard Clay Hattabaugh suffered a season-ending knee injury and cornerback John Herpin suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter and didn't return to the game.

"I think we're going to set an NCAA record for starting freshmen and sophomores," Trojan Coach John Robinson said. As many as 19 first-year players have played in USC games.

It might not have been pretty, but Robinson said he would take it.

"We were stunned last week (a 22-7 loss to Oregon), and we had to come back today and play our best kind of hard, physical football," he said.

He praised the play of Otton and Sermons and indicated he expected Johnson to play next week at Stanford.

Oregon State's last chance was on the game's last series. The Beavers got the ball for the last time on John Stonehouse's punt and started a drive at their 31 with 1:41 to go.

J.J. Young brought the crowd to its feet with a 21-yard run on a pitch play with 31 seconds left, but the drive ended at USC's 41.

Otton, in his first major college start, completed 13 of 21 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked only once, on USC's last series. Rob Johnson had had 22 sacks in four games.

"Otton was very efficient," Robinson said, "and we haven't been efficient. . . . We've taken a lot of a sacks."

Sermons, the widely recruited freshman from Bishop Amat, gained 74 yards in 23 carries without so much as a bobble. Starter Shawn Walters, who Robinson said woke up ill Saturday, had 16 carries for 68 yards.

Off to its usual rocky defensive start, USC gave up scores to Oregon State on the Beavers' first two series, and trailed by 13-2, getting on the board first with a seldom-seen defensive conversion play.

USC made the score 13-13 and went ahead, 20-13, on a second-quarter, 31-yard screen pass from Otton to Sermons. The play came seconds after Hattabaugh--who will undergo surgery Monday--was rolled off the field on a cart.

Robinson, who had blamed himself for abandoning his running offense after the Oregon defeat, showed on USC's last scoring drive the running game was again fully operational.

A 50-yard pass play from Otton to Keyshawn Johnson set up USC at the Oregon State three late in the third period. From there, Robinson ordered all running plays. It took Sermons four carries, but he finally scored and USC had a 27-13 lead.

Junior linebacker Eric Herrin, who had been off to a slow start after being a training camp sensation, recovered two fumbles and was a game-long force for the Trojans.

It was Herrin who executed a hard tackle on quarterback Rahim Muhammad midway through the fourth quarter at USC's five-yard-line, forcing a fumble recovered by Trojan Quincy Harrison.

After that, Oregon State never seriously threatened again.

Oregon State took a first-quarter lead on its first series, on a two-yard run by Starling Latu. That was set up by a 64-yard Don Shanklin-to-Cameron Reynolds pass play to USC's two on Oregon State's third play.

The conversion play resulted in one of the rarest of all football plays, a defensive conversion.

It used to be that a blocked conversion kick was a dead ball, but a rule change in 1988 makes it a live ball. On the Beavers' conversion, the Trojans' Marcus Bonds blocked Randy Lund's kick, aided somewhat by a poor placement by holder Chris Cross. USC's Micah Phillips picked the ball up and ran it back the length of the field.

The rule change provides that if a defensive team gains possession during a conversion, it can score two points by returning the ball the length of the field.

Unrattled, Oregon State bounced back on its next series and scored again on a 34-yard run by Young, who smashed through Herpin along the sideline.

Herpin suffered a shoulder injury on the play and didn't return. Young cruised the rest of the way untouched and Oregon State had a 13-2 lead with most of the first period left.

Cole Ford's 23-yard field goal late in the first reduced the Beaver lead to 13-5 before USC came back to tie the score.

Walters and Sermons, running for the most part behind linemen Norberto Garrido and Kris Pollack, carried most of the load, but Otton went to Grace for a 12-yard gain early in the drive. The touchdown came on a one-yard pass to Tyler Cashman.

In a closing first-half drive that ate up 4:02, Otton and Sermons finished it with the screen play to give USC its 20-13 lead.

Beaver Coach Jerry Pettibone played three quarterbacks Saturday, and lost two.

Shanklin started, came out because of an injured foot and was replaced by freshman Tim Alexander, who suffered a broken collarbone late in the game. Muhammad, of Fairfax High, finished up.

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