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Robinson Not Taking These Rebels Lightly

USC: He sees UNLV as 'threat' to heavily favored Trojans in his bid for 100th victory.

October 04, 1997|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Start with the offensive lines, where USC has only one player under 300 pounds and Nevada Las Vegas averages 280.

Move on to UNLV's defensive front, which will be giving up an average of 41 pounds a player when it lines up against the Trojans' offensive line tonight at the Coliseum.

Bulk isn't everything, as USC showed earlier this season, but that kind of advantage can be insurmountable.

The Trojans (1-2) are 25-point favorites to deliver Coach John Robinson's 100th college victory tonight--and if they don't, they'll be handing him one of his worst defeats.

USC will have advantages all over the field--except at quarterback, where sophomore Jon Denton makes the Rebels dangerous. He passed for 3,591 yards last season--including a 503-yard performance against San Diego State--and set 10 NCAA freshman records.

Denton is a home-grown player from Henderson, Nev., but he's the leader of a UNLV team that has 53 players from California on its roster--14 of them starters.

"See, we've got all the guys USC didn't want, then we have to go play USC. So I don't know how smart we are with that," UNLV Coach Jeff Horton said. "When we watch film, it looks like their film is at a different speed, because their guys play faster than we play."

UNLV (2-2) went 1-11 last season and finished last in the nation in total defense, giving up 543 yards a game. But the Rebels are better this season, with victories over Hawaii and Illinois State and a one-point loss to Air Force.

Robinson is sounding the usual warnings, but it isn't a game that should be close--and if it is, the breathing room USC earned with a victory over California will be sucked out of the season.

"UNLV is a threat to us," Robinson said. "UNLV could come in and destroy us. They have the potential to come in here and score five touchdowns.

"We might be a better football team talent-wise, rated higher and all those things, but we have to look at the reality. We can't not look at them as a threat, because of their passing game, their quarterback and the wide-open nature of the game."

If the Trojans can control the game early, it will be a good opportunity to work the kinks out of an offense that still needs refining.

Cornerback Daylon McCutcheon has been practicing five or six offensive plays and is scheduled to play as many as 10 downs as a receiver. If the experiment goes well, he'll give USC another scoring threat as the Trojans approach the heart of their Pacific 10 Conference season.

The running game was rejuvenated in the victory over California by the offensive line's commitment to blocking low and the decision to replace Delon Washington with LaVale Woods at tailback.

Keep an eye on this number: With a net rushing total of 221 yards tonight, the Trojans' 59.7-yard average would reach 100 yards a game, a mark that would rank 87th this week in the NCAA rushing statistics. That's a far cry from when they hit bottom at No. 112.

Denton should provide some excitement, especially since he figures to be on the run from a USC defense averaging more than five sacks a game.

"USC puts tremendous pressure on you and plays man coverage, so that's a tough task for us," Horton said. "He's going to be really challenged this week."

Denton is already more than halfway to the UNLV record of 8,020 yards set by Randall Cunningham from 1982 to '84. Denton is a go-for-broke passer who probably makes the eyes of USC cornerbacks Brian Kelly and McCutcheon grow big. Denton passed for 25 touchdowns last season but threw 16 interceptions, and he already has thrown five interceptions this season though he has eight touchdown passes.

"I think that Jon is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I know I wouldn't trade him for anyone," Horton said. "Last year, a lot of times we had to throw so much because we were behind. But over the last five games, we had a chance to win them all, and I thought he performed very well. He put up some impressive numbers against some very good teams. We were outmanned, but the one shining spot was Jon.

"I've never seen anybody able to get out of trouble like he can. His escapability is phenomenal. He can buy some time, and he's probably the most dangerous when he gets out of the pocket."

UNLV will try to keep the Trojans from putting a victory in their pocket too quickly.

"It's a big game for UNLV," Horton said. "We're trying to establish credibility around the country. The basketball team here has it by winning the national championship and having the great teams under Jerry Tarkanian. Football has always been hit or miss."

As for the game's subplot--Robinson's chance for his 100th victory--that's nothing new for Horton.

"It seemed like last year I was involved with [former Fresno State coach Jim Sweeney] and his 200th win. He got No. 199 against us. [Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry] got 100 the week before we played them this year. Now Coach Robinson is going for his 100th win, and I know it's a big moment for him.

"People say it's not the USC of old, but they lost to the No. 4 team [Florida State] by seven points, played [No. 15 Washington State] and lost by seven points, then went to undefeated Cal last week and won by 10. But everyone who watched the game knows it was a total domination. We know we've got our hands full."

*

WHO:

Nevada Las Vegas

WHERE:

Coliseum

WHEN:

7:10 p.m.

TV:

Fox Sports West 2

RADIO:

KLSX-FM (97.1)

INSIDE

* SACK IS HIS BAG

Chris Patton is a bigger hit at UNLV than he was in minor leagues. C6

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