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No USC Groundswell

College football: Washington State ends 40-year drought at Coliseum and sweeps locals for first time, 28-21.

September 14, 1997|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

All those images of a rambling tailback that the phrase Student Body Right once summoned at USC seem so far off now.

One thing is certain: It's apparently no longer the student body's right to expect to beat Washington State at the Coliseum.

After a few last, desperate passes fell incomplete, the Trojans are 0-2 for the first time since 1960 after a 28-21 loss to Washington State in front of 51,655 at the Coliseum.

It was a loss that heralded a bit of dark history for USC: The Cougars hadn't won in the Coliseum since 1957 and had never beaten UCLA and USC in the same season until Saturday.

The 23rd-ranked Trojans ran for 31 yards--only about a yard a carry for the second week in a row--and Coach John Robinson was so frank after the game, his words had the ring of a preemptive strike.

"We were extremely disappointing. We choked in a thousand areas," Robinson said. "We did it again to ourselves on offense. We weren't nearly as efficient as we were last week. We botched a number of things. People seemed to be confused."

And most to the point: "It was one of the most disappointing running performances I've been involved with."

In spite of all USC's mistakes, the score was still tied late in the fourth quarter, 21-21, before Washington State's Kevin McKenzie made a leaping, one-handed catch of Ryan Leaf's pass and turned it into a 51-yard touchdown play with 4:18 left in the game.

McKenzie--from Long Beach Wilson High and Long Beach City College--found a seam and made the catch, then ran another 35 yards to score with the help of a block by flanker Shawn McWashington, who took USC's Antuan Simmons out of the play.

Leaf completed 21 of 40 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns, though he was intercepted twice by Brian Kelly.

"They were really trying to attack us inside," Kelly said. "He did a good job. He's big and mobile and did a great job in the pocket.

"But we can't turn back. We have to continue to play. It's early in the season. We've got to continue playing well. There's no turning back."

The USC defense held Washington State time and time again in the second half, but not when it mattered most.

"We gave up the big play again on defense," linebacker Chris Claiborne said. "The last two games came down to crunch time and we don't produce. Third and long comes up, and two times we gave up the big play."

Washington State once led, 21-6, but USC tied the score in the fourth quarter after a couple of big plays.

R. Jay Soward broke a 95-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half. Then the Trojans pulled out a halfback pass for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, when LaVale Woods took a pitch from quarterback John Fox and lofted a 15-yard pass to Mike Bastianelli at the back of the end zone.

Fox hit Billy Miller with a pass for the two-point conversion to tie the score with 12:44 remaining in the game, needing the extra point because of a blocked kick after the Trojans' first touchdown.

USC had two more possessions after Washington State took the lead, but a holding penalty against USC's justly maligned offensive line set them back to first and 26 at their own 12-yard line on the first, and the second was only a series of desperate passes in the final minute.

Soward, the Trojans' splendidly speedy receiver, was fast enough to get open and had his hands on one.

"I thought R. Jay had a chance," Fox said. "He's a big-play maker. I'd go to him in that situation any time."

Soward claimed the blame: "I dropped both balls," he said.

With that, Washington State's pep band broke into strains of "California, Here I Come," in honor of the first sweep of the Los Angeles teams in school history.

"This is very sweet," said Michael Black, the Washington State running back from Dorsey High. "We accomplished something that hasn't been done in a hundred years, to have two big wins like this."

Any win would be big for the Trojans, who were encouraged by their season-opening 14-7 loss to Florida State, only to fall into the depths after losing Saturday.

The running game, on trial after managing only 25 yards against the Seminoles, wasn't any better against the Cougars.

Delon Washington, who was facing a challenge for his job, rushed for 20 yards in eight carries. Freshman Malaefou MacKenzie, who got his chance to see what he could do, managed 14 yards in 11 carries, and it's looking less like the problem is the tailbacks.

"I don't know what it is," offensive guard Travis Claridge said. "I don't know how to explain what's gone wrong. . . . I was confident as hell. I was looking at magazines and they hyped up Washington's line and I was saying they should be looking our way. But we look like [junk]."

Robinson didn't argue.

"Our players have to defeat their players physically and we're simply not doing that," he said. "We're not blocking."

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