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Trojans Don't Let Big One Get Away : College football: A 26-0 lead becomes 26-14 victory over Cougars. Woods pulls hamstring.

October 15, 1995|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He sat on a hallway trunk, near a pile of postgame pizzas, just delivered for his disappointed yet hungry teammates.

Chad Davis, at one time the most prolific high school quarterback in history, had just become the most prolific quarterback unbeaten USC has faced in 1995.

In an outstanding performance, Davis tried to bring his Washington State Cougars back from a 26-0 deficit. But the second-half rally fell short and USC won its sixth in a row, 26-14, before 51,131 at the Coliseum.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior completed 30 of 48 passes and had more yards than USC's combination of Brad Otton and Kyle Wachholtz, 236 to 220. The Cougars ran two more plays that USC and almost matched the Trojans in total offense.

Still, Washington State came away impressed with a USC defense that Coach Mike Price and Davis compared favorably to Nebraska's. The Cougars lost to the second-ranked Cornhuskers, 35-21, two weeks ago at Lincoln.

Said Price: "I was really impressed with their defense. They're so athletic. They might be better than Nebraska's, I don't know. They are more physical than Nebraska.

"I didn't think so before the game but I do now."

Added Davis: "SC's defense plays awful hard, they're better than Nebraska."

Tough, durable and dangerous into the final minutes, Davis wouldn't let his Cougars expire until he missed a fourth-and-five pass from the Trojan 18 with 30 seconds left.

"We felt all week we could pass effectively on them," he said quietly.

"SC has a great defensive line, they put a lot of pressure on me. But even so, I feel we could have won. They got that 96-yard drive on us, and scored on the punt return. If those two things don't happen, it's not 19-0 and maybe we win the game."

USC, on its way to Notre Dame and Washington the next two Saturdays, achieved a victory tempered with another loss in its suddenly thinning tailback corps.

Backup tailback LaVale Woods pulled a hamstring in the first half and watched the second half on crutches. He's out for one to three weeks, trainers said.

The Trojans, 4-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference, started the season with Leonard Green at tailback, lost him to a foot injury that still isn't healed, then lost Shawn Walters, suspended for improper dealings with an agent.

"We've gone from the deepest corps of running backs in America to three guys," said offensive coordinator Mike Riley, meaning Delon Washington, Terry Barnum and Rodney Sermons.

Current starter Washington had 82 yards in 25 carries against the Cougars, none longer than 10 yards.

Keyshawn Johnson, too, was barred by Washington State from big plays, but nonetheless had a nine-catch, 85-yard day. Otton overthrew him several times.

Otton's Pac-10 record streak of passes without an interception ended in the third quarter when the Cougars' Johnny Nansen intercepted him. He had thrown 216 without a pick.

Otton completed 14 of 24. Wachholtz was nine of 16.

"I tried more deep stuff than I usually do, and that brings your percentage down," Otton said. "I didn't play great, but I don't think I had a bad game.

"We played a really tough team. They covered people very well, but the only time they pressured me was when they blitzed."

USC's Darrell Russell, the sophomore defensive tackle, had a monster game. The 6-4, 320-pounder had six unassisted tackles, and five were for losses totaling 24 yards. He sacked Davis twice.

"When I see a quarterback taking a five-step drop, that's my game," Russell said. "I got excited when I saw that. I also got kind of tired in the fourth quarter, Davis had us on the field so long."

Indeed, as the game approached the finish line, the longer Washington State's drives seemingly became. Down, 19-0, at halftime, Davis kept the Cougars (3-3, 2-1) moving, mostly on short passes.

He has done this before. Playing for three Southland high schools, he passed for 82 touchdowns and 9,332 yards, at the time (1993) a national prep record.

USC started with a 36-yard field goal from Adam Rendon, then Larry Parker ran a punt back 63 yards before fumbling at the goal line. Mike Bastianelli recovered in the end zone.

Wachholtz got it to 17-0 on a 96-yard drive, capped by an eight-yard pass to Johnny McWilliams, after Jesse Davis bagged his third interception in two games. Davis was called for grounding the ball in the end zone for a safety, and Otton and tight end Tyler Cashman teamed on a 40-yard scoring play early in the third quarter to make it 26-0.

And even after Davis had brought his team back to 26-7, USC Coach John Robinson still showed confidence in his offense and defense. On a fourth and two at USC's 29, he ordered Otton to go for it, and Washington got seven up the middle.

But Washington fumbled it away at the Cougar 16, and two series later it was 26-14.

The Trojans' remarkable streak of no-turnover football took a slight hit Saturday. There were two, Otton's interception and Washington's fumble.

USC has achieved an odd symmetry of scores in six games. The Trojans scored 45 points in their first two games, 31 in the next two and 26 in the last two.

What does it mean? Maybe Lou Holtz can figure it out.

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