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USC Finds Its Quarterback of Future : Trojans: Sophomore Brad Otton shows both poise and ability in beating Oregon State.

October 09, 1994|ARA NAJARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Finally pressed, Brad Otton looked puzzled.

The USC quarterback, cornered by a throng of reporters, wasn't sure what to do.

"I don't have to make a statement, do I?" he asked.

No, he already had done that on the field.

Otton, the back-up to Rob Johnson, got his first start Saturday because Johnson sprained his ankle against Oregon last week.

Otton might not replace Johnson anytime soon, but he looked as if he will be playing a lot of minutes for a long time to come.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore completed 13 of 21 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State. He had no interceptions and was sacked only once.

That last fact is perhaps the most satisfying statistic for USC fans--including Coach John Robinson--who have been displeased with the sacks Johnson has taken this season.

They also delighted in Otton's ability to make big plays.

Otton connected with Keyshawn Johnson for one bomb of 50 yards and another pass play of 27 yards. In all, Otton found him six times for 139 yards.

And it was Otton's convincing play-action passes that keyed both his touchdown tosses.

Mike Riley, USC's offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, was more than pleased with his back-up player's performance.

"Otton did an outstanding job--he was poised and made big plays," Riley said. "He would have made another big play if someone hadn't missed a block."

Riley was referring to Otton's one sack, on which the quarterback faked a handoff and turned around to find his facemask full of Oregon State jerseys.

But Otton was not shaken, stirred, or even nervous.

Before the game, he said, he didn't have one butterfly. Of course, that soon changed.

"Those opening drives were like a nightmare," Otton said. "All of a sudden, we were down, 13-2, and Rob (Johnson) comes over to me on the sideline and says, 'Well, it looks like you're going to throw a lot.'

"I room with Rob on the road, and when things are going wrong, I know who to go to--he's been running this offense for a long time."

Otton didn't throw a lot--only enough to beat Oregon State in his first Division I-A start.

Otton came to USC as a transfer from Weber State under some odd circumstances. For one thing, he didn't know much about the university. For another, he thought USC was a quarterback school.

"I really didn't know anything about USC--I watched part of the game against Utah last year," Otton said.

What he saw was Johnson complete 30 of 44 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns. That was a good selling point.

"Coming to SC was tougher than people might think. I mean, sure, everyone thinks 'Yeah, play for SC,' but my mom, my dad and my brother went to Weber State and I have a lot of good friends there.

"But (the administration) kind of left us hanging. There was talk of the program being cut, scholarships being cut and coaching positions being cut."

He set records at Weber State, a Division I-AA school, when he passed for 540 yards and accounted for 565 yards of total offense against Northern Arizona last season. For the season, he passed for 2,307 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman.

That made him instantly attractive to USC, as did the fact that Otton's dad had been coached at Weber State by Riley's dad and the two had remained friends.

"To tell the truth, with Rob here, I wasn't sure I wanted to sit a year," Otton said. "But everyone here talks of building to win a national championship in three years. I have three years left.

"You do the math."

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