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USC Shows It Can Go Deep in Lots of Ways, 55-3

College football: Trojans bounce back with long pass plays and plenty of freshmen in rout of Illinois.

September 08, 1996|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In the aftermath and shock of the disaster at Giants Stadium two weeks ago, many wondered how long it would take USC to become the team everyone expected it to be.

October? November?

How about the second Saturday of September?

How about 55-3 over Illinois, the most USC points scored since the 1995 Cotton Bowl?

USC spotted the Illini a 3-0 lead, then scored 31 unanswered points through its first series of the third quarter at Memorial Stadium.

It even began with a drum roll, with thunder and lightning nearby, and some early-game rain, unnerving most of the 56,504 on hand.

The rout became an avalanche. And USC subs finished it, with the longest offensive play in Trojan history, a 97-yarder, and later a touchdown drive engineered by the third-string quarterback, Quincy Woods.

The Trojans not only got their prime-time players--quarterback Brad Otton and receiver Chris Miller, to name two easy ones--performing at a high level, this one had lots to put in the bank.

How about a freshman on the scoring end of the longest offensive play in Trojan history?

How about freshmen all over the field in the fourth quarter, including Woods, who took the team on a 51-yard, eight-play drive capped by a two-yard touchdown by freshman tailback Chad Morton?

And another freshman, tailback/fullback Ted Iacenda, splattering Illinois defenders about the field on the Woods/Morton scoring drive?

And how about Otton's backup, Matt Koffler, who for five years has been adrift on the edges of the USC offense under two head coaches, entering the USC record book with the 97-yard pass play to freshman R. Jay Soward?

The 6-foot-4 Koffler, from Rosemead, was looking at his final college season as Otton's backup, with little hope of any real playing time. He'd had 18 career pass attempts before Saturday.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the game in USC's satchel, 41-3, and Trojan subs on the field, offensive coordinator Mike Riley hand-signaled a play USC calls "Hinge-right, snap."

Earlier, the same play had produced an 84-yard Otton-to-Chris Miller touchdown, USC's first.

"It's just a deep post route, and we knew R. Jay could beat their deep people with it," Koffler said.

"It's weird, but at the moment I let it go, all of a sudden the ball felt like a Nerf ball. It seemed so light, and I thought I'd overthrown him."

He didn't. Soward caught it in full stride and sprinted down the middle of the field untouched.

A 5-11, 175-pound sprinter (10.34 at 100 meters) from Fontana High, Soward was a sensation throughout USC's preseason training camp.

On a day when Otton was 12 for 18 for 301 yards and wasn't sacked, and the Trojans gained nearly 600 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per play, Coach John Robinson was most giddy about his punter, Jim Wren.

He called the Fullerton College transfer "the player of the game" for keeping USC out of harm's way early, when USC's offense needed three series to find its rhythm.

A common comment about Wren in preseason practice was "he's no John Stonehouse," the graduated punter who led the Pac-10 last season. But Wren averaged 46.9 yards against Penn State and 53.5 Saturday.

From USC's 10 on its second series, he punted 53 yards to the Illinois 45, and the Illini got only a field goal in the drive that followed. He had a 54-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Otton, given substantially more time to find receivers by his offensive line--Rome Douglas, Ken Bowen, Jonathan Heimbach, Travis Claridge and Chris Brymer--was the Brad Otton of the Rose Bowl. On the rare occasion when a pass rusher sneaked through the Trojan wall, he stepped up and found Chris Miller (three catches, 155 yards), Billy Miller (three for 67), Rodney Sermons (three for 19) or John Allred (two for 31).

After the bomb to Miller on USC's third series, he was in total command.

"We didn't run easily today [154 yards), but we ran efficiently enough to allow Brad to be an effective passer," Robinson said.

And you can relax, Deanna Otton, Brad won't be such a bear this week.

Depressed after his 11-for-28 performance against Penn State, Otton said Saturday that his wife saw his downcast side for two weeks.

"I guess I'll be a little more pleasant this week," he said. "I wasn't very good company to her recently. All I could think of was how I could have played better against Penn State."

Pass blocking helps.

Take sophomore right tackle Bowen, who at 6-8 and 330 pounds looks as if he could block utility vans, but he didn't block many Penn State players on Aug. 25.

Bowen was much better against Illinois, everyone agreed.

"I was so nervous against Penn State, I almost hyperventilated before the game and made a bunch of mental mistakes," he said in the steamy but happy USC locker room.

"But I was determined to play relaxed today, and I did. Once the game started, it seemed more like practice this time."

And having Chris Miller on your side helps.

"Chris is running the same routes he ran last year, but we were focused on Keyshawn Johnson [Miller's cousin] then," Otton said.

Easily the happiest guy in the place was Soward. After all, how many freshmen have had a 97-yard touchdown play in their second game?

"When I caught that ball, I knew no one would catch me," he said.

"It's such a great feeling, knowing now I can play with these guys."

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