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COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 10

Williams Keeps Trojans From Falling Short

USC: Lineman decides to run with recovered fumble and result is a key touchdown.

November 08, 1998|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALO ALTO — Like any good defensive lineman, Aaron Williams knows what he is supposed to do when he sees a football rolling on the ground.

But knowing it and doing it are two different things.

"Instead of falling on the ball like I've been taught, I scooped it up," Williams said. "Scoop and score. That's all I was thinking."

The defensive tackle's 18-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter was one of several big defensive plays that broke open a close game and paved the way for USC's 34-9 victory at Stanford on Saturday afternoon.

In a season when the Trojan defense has shown a knack for turning the tide, Williams and his teammates recovered three fumbles, intercepted a pass and otherwise made life miserable for Stanford quarterback Todd Husak, who came into the game ranked seventh in the nation in total offense.

Between three sacks and countless hurries, Husak completed 18 of 33 passes for 138 yards. That's less than half his conference-leading average of 314 yards per game.

"The main thing that needs to be said is that our defense once again was a dominant force," USC Coach Paul Hackett said. "I mean, this is a top-notch offense we played today and our defense, from the very beginning, made a statement about controlling the game."

For cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, who complains that too many quarterbacks avoid his side of the field, facing a wide-open offense meant getting a few more footballs thrown his way.

McCutcheon made good on his opportunity by intercepting a Husak pass in the first quarter and returning it 39 yards into Stanford territory.

"These are the games that every secondary looks forward to," McCutcheon said. "I'm happy they threw the ball at me.

"I want to knock down passes and make interceptions," he said. "That's what it's all about."

For middle linebacker Chris Claiborne, Saturday's game was a chance to show the defense can inspire the offense.

Claiborne still aches over the loss to Cal a month ago, when USC let a 21-point lead slip away in the second half. He is still angry his team let another lead slip away on a couple of big plays by Oregon quarterback Akili Smith.

This time, with the Trojans ahead, 17-7, in the third quarter and the offense momentarily sputtering, the defense talked about doing something to swing the momentum.

As Stanford running back Eddie Gayles rumbled downfield with a screen pass, USC free safety Rashard Cook hit him hard enough to jar the ball loose and strong safety Grant Pearsall recovered.

"That's what we do," Claiborne said. "If the offense is stalling, we've got to get them running again."

Claiborne got no argument from Stanford Coach Tyrone Willingham, whose quarterback was shut down after throwing for 419 yards against UCLA and 335 yards against Arizona State the previous two weeks.

"[USC] put pressure on us in a lot of places," Willingham said. "Their defense is as good as we've seen all year."

And the defense's ability to make big plays is a big reason USC has the seven victories it needs to qualify for a bowl berth.

"We knew we had to win this one," McCutcheon said. "It was on everyone's mind."

Maybe Williams, who recovered another fumble in the fourth quarter, was thinking about one more thing.

Two years ago, when he was a redshirt freshman, Williams dove on a fumble against Washington only to look up and realize that if he had picked up the ball, he might have run untouched into the end zone. He said: "Ever since then, it has been implanted in my mind."

So this time, there would be no falling down.

"I seized the opportunity," Williams said. "It's a defensive lineman's dream come true."

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