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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / 1996 | GAME REPORT: USC 26, Houston
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Hmm, This Cougar Tastes Like Chicken

September 22, 1996|EARL GUSTKEY and THOMAS BONK

USC set the tone early in Saturday's game at the Astrodome, when 285-pound defensive tackle Matt Keneley chased the Houston mascot--a guy in a Cougar suit--from the Trojan bench.

After an early USC defensive series, the Trojan defensive linemen sat on their bench, and the Cougar guy began beating on their heads with a rubber baseball bat. Keneley leaped to his feet and shoved the mascot away.

"He was heckling us, hitting us with that bat," Keneley said. "I told him to leave and not come back."

He didn't.

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How come nobody loves them Cougs?

Saturday's crowd, 21,035, was the smallest to see USC play since 18,795 saw the 1990 USC-Oregon State game at Corvallis.

With the NFL Oilers leaving after next season, Houston hopes to finally capture some fan interest.

"We're a commuter school, and we've never drawn really well," a university spokeswoman said. "Even when we had Andre Ware and won a lot, attendance was never great."

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Chad Morton, who rushed for 143 yards against Oregon State last week, had a zero net on four carries against Houston, and played on the kickoff and punt coverage teams. He was expected to also play at cornerback, but didn't.

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The sudden emergence of junior safety Grant Pearsall is not surprising, defensive coordinator Keith Burns said.

"Grant has made the most of every opportunity he's had, which means coming to practice every day waiting to learn something new," Burns said.

"All he's lacked up to now is confidence. He has it now, and he's playing like it."

Pearsall had an interception in the Illinois game and made several hard tackles Saturday, forcing a fumble and getting his second interception.

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Burns said the difference Saturday was USC's rush on Houston quarterback Chuck Clements, who had a 22-for-36 day for 150 yards.

"We got a continual push on the quarterback, and that was the difference," he said.

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Happy Anniversary: The last time USC played in the Astrodome was the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl when USC and Texas A&M produced 1,139 yards of offense. The Trojans fell behind, 14-0, then scored the next 34 points and wound up winning, 47-28. USC had 620 yards of offense and Rob Hertel threw four touchdown passes.

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Houston, which had 102 points in its first three games, was held without a touchdown for the first time in 15 games.

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