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Rose Bowl Race Down to Last Laps : USC: Trojans play host to Arizona, but attention will also be on Oregon-Stanford game.


The Rose Bowl playoffs, as USC Coach John Robinson calls them, begin the gun lap at the Coliseum today.

Arizona and USC, at 12:30 p.m., will be trying to knock each other out of the race. And at the same time, both will be hoping Stanford can knock Oregon out of the driver's seat in a 3:30 game at Palo Alto.

Oregon, USC and Arizona are all 5-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference. If Oregon beats Stanford today and Oregon State next Saturday, today's Coliseum matchup is strictly for place money.

Robinson's Trojans (6-2) are on top of their game, gunning for their fifth consecutive victory. The Wildcats (7-2) have beaten them in three of the last four seasons.

And for the second consecutive Saturday, Robinson's team is up against a high-ranking defense. The Trojans dismantled Washington State's secondary last week with three touchdown passes from Rob Johnson to Keyshawn Johnson.

Arizona stumbled again offensively last Saturday but beat Cal, 13-6, after having lost to Oregon the previous weekend, 10-9.

Dick Tomey's Wildcats haven't scored an offensive touchdown in eight quarters, but his defense against the run continues to be the nation's best--57.2 yards a game.

Arizona ranks sixth nationally in total defense, giving up 258 yards a game, and is tied for second in scoring defense, yielding 11.3 points.

Robinson's team isn't frightening anyone with statistics, it is simply winning. And another triumph today would equal USC's longest winning streak since 1989.

His players seek atonement for their 38-7 loss at Tucson last season, a game in which the Trojans trailed at halftime, 28-0, and made a sophomore quarterback, Danny White, look like an NFL first-round draft pick.

It ranks as the worst beating of Robinson's college coaching career.

This time, it appears as if USC will have more offensive horsepower.

USC's offense is operating efficiently--it has scored 21 touchdowns and eight field goals in its last 31 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

Two other statistics reflect the two teams' offenses:

--Wildcat kicker Steve McLaughlin has been called upon to try 27 field goals this season.

--USC's Cole Ford has been called on only 11 times, and only four times in the last fourgames.

And here's how well USC's defense has played lately: The Trojans have surrendered only two first downs on their opponents' previous 30 third downs.

Last Saturday against Cal--a team USC beat, 61-0--Arizona needed big fourth-quarter plays to win, 13-6.

On one, linebacker Sean Harris stopped a screen pass for a five-yard loss on a Cal second and 10 at Arizona's 20 with two minutes left.

Then tackle Jim Hoffman got two consecutive sacks, and Arizona took over and killed the clock.

Arizona's Ontiwaun Carter, the conference's No. 2 rusher with 1,071 yards, figures to break an old Wildcat record early today. He needs seven yards to become Arizona's all-time leading rusher. The record, 3,371 yards, was set by Art Luppino in the mid-1950s, and was for years the NCAA record.

A USC challenge today will be to protect quarterback Rob Johnson, who starts for the second consecutive week after sitting out the equivalent of four games because of an ankle sprain.

Arizona had six sacks against USC in last year's game and had five against Cal last Saturday. The Wildcats lead the Pac-10 in sacks with 39, averaging 4.3 a game.

Rob Johnson didn't appear to have lost a thing last Saturday. He sent Keyshawn Johnson into patterns where he was often matched with shorter cornerbacks and Johnson outleaped them for eight catches and 145 yards, and all three Trojan touchdowns in the 23-10 victory.

And Ed Hervey, injured for most of the last two seasons, is finally back and had a five-catch day at Pullman.

Johnson, 6-4, and Hervey, 6-3, will also be in search of short Arizona defensive backs today, and there are three, listed as 5-9 or 5-10.

But special teams, Robinson believes, will win today.

"Our next three games are dead even, in my mind, and I think special teams will decide the rest of our games," he said.

"Our special teams have played well for the most part, but I'm still upset we let that kid run through us and block a conversion last week."


* Opponent: Arizona.

* Site: Coliseum.

* Time: 12:30 p.m.

* Records: USC 6-2, 5-1; Arizona 7-2, 5-1.

* Radio: KNX (1070).

* TV: Channel 7.

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