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Trojans Feel OK After Shootout : College football: Rob Johnson has another huge game in 45-28 victory over Arizona, setting up big one against UCLA next Saturday.

November 13, 1994|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rob Johnson picked Arizona's vaunted defense to pieces Saturday, completing his last 15 passes in a 45-28 shootout victory over the Wildcats.

In just over three quarters, Johnson completed 25 of 35 passes for 390 yards--two yards short of the school record--and three touchdowns. The quarterback then tweaked his tender right ankle again early in the fourth quarter and retired for the day.

Unexpectedly, it was a wild, free-scoring aerial circus, one won by Johnson over Arizona quarterback Danny White, who passed for 370 yards and three touchdowns.

USC pulled it out only after the teams combined for a 35-point third quarter, shortly after which the Trojan defense stopped Arizona on four downs inside the seven-yard line. Then, Johnson and his relief pitcher, Brad Otton, took USC 98 yards for a 42-28 lead.

Johnson, a week after leading his team to a 23-10 victory over another outstanding defensive team, Washington State, was even sharper Saturday, before 61,264 at the Coliseum.

Early in the fourth quarter, he had taken USC from the Trojan two to midfield when he resprained his right ankle and had to be helped off the field. Two more completions and he would have tied the Pac-10 record for consecutive completions in a single game, 17.

Johnson has been so sharp lately his coaches are getting sort of ho-hum about it. "To tell you the truth, I kind of expect Rob to play like that now," said his offensive coordinator, Mike Riley. "That's how good he really is."

His head coach gushed.

"Arizona is a great defensive team, but what did we get, a thousand yards?" Coach John Robinson said afterward. It was 550 yards. Arizona had 443. "Rob's performance the last two games has been phenomenal. These two teams (Washington State and Arizona) try to destroy quarterbacks."

To reach the Rose Bowl, USC (7-2, 6-1 in the Pac-10) must defeat UCLA next Saturday and hope Oregon, which routed Stanford, 55-21, loses to Oregon State.

On a day when USC tied its longest winning streak since 1989, five, these were the big plays that contributed to what USC defensive coordinator Don Lindsey called "an old-fashioned, OK Corral shootout:"

--A third-and-10, 36-yard Arizona touchdown pass from Danny White to Richard Dice for a 14-7 second-quarter Wildcat lead.

--A catch by Keyshawn Johnson, on his knees, of Rob Johnson's 28-yard pass that set up a short touchdown by Rodney Sermons to tie the score, 14-14, at the half.

--Another outstanding catch by Dice (he had nine for 171 yards), this one for 38 yards, to USC's five, setting up a touchdown for a 21-14 lead.

--After a seven-yard touchdown pass to Johnny McWilliams, the Wildcats pulled off the day's longest play, a 65-yard White-to-Ontiwaun Carter play for a 28-21 Arizona lead, midway through the third quarter.

--Johnson then found Ed Hervey--who had five catches for 120 yards--on a tying 32-yard pass play.

--The Trojans then pulled off the first of two goal-line stands, with cornerback John Herpin--two plays after a 43-yard run by Carter--intercepting White in the end zone. Johnson then took his team 65 yards, scoring on a rollout from the one, to put USC ahead for good, 35-28.

The crowd, USC players said later, then became a factor on a memorable goal-line stand at the Coliseum's tunnel end, with 8:06 left.

Arizona (7-3, 6-2) threatened another tie when it had first and goal at the Trojan seven, but the Wildcats couldn't put it over.

Carter gained one, White passed to Gary Taylor to the one, but from there Carter lost one yard on two carries, and Trojan partisans exploded with an ovation that fueled USC on what followed: a six-play, 98-yard drive.

Johnson had taken USC to the Trojan 47, but couldn't rise after Tedy Bruschi sacked him.

Enter Otton.

On his first play, the sophomore connected with Keyshawn Johnson on another spectacular play. Johnson, leaping over two defenders, fell to the ground with the ball at Arizona's 12.

Two plays later, tailback Leonard Green--filling in for starter Shawn Walters, who didn't play because of a thumb injury--scored through Arizona's left side from the 11 for a 42-28 lead.

For Green, who had 92 yards in 16 carries, it was redemption. He had lost a fumble at Arizona's 13 in the second quarter, setting up the Wildcat score that tied it, 7-7.

At that point, everyone figured a low-scoring game was still in the cards. Green's bobble looked huge.

"I thought I'd cost us the game," Green said. "Coach told me 'Stay in it . . . put it behind you,' and I did. I'd never fumbled the ball away in my career before."

Green was one of the players who said the stirring goal-line stand jump-started the offense. "I was really pumped up over that, and so was the rest of the offense," he said. "It really got my adrenaline going."

Afterward, Johnson's ankle was the key subject. Surprisingly, Johnson walked up the tunnel to the locker room without a limp.

"It'll be fine, it just took me a couple of minutes to walk it off," he said. "I could have gone back in. I tweaked it pretty good."

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