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Somebody Has to Score, Right?

College football: Trojans, Bears have been successful, but not because of their offenses.

October 10, 1998|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If USC-Cal isn't a long, heated rivalry, at least it is long.

USC has played Cal more than any other team--85 times--but the Trojans also have beaten the Bears more than any other team. The record is 54-26-5, and USC has won 12 of the last 13 in the Coliseum.

The question this year--at least based on remarks by a couple of Cal players and Coach Tom Holmoe--is whether the Trojan aura is what it once was.

That suggestion is an affront even to those USC folks who readily admit that it isn't. After all, it isn't Cal's place to say so.

The real question to be answered today at the Coliseum may be whether even a 19th-ranked USC team that is a shadow of what it was in the 1970s is still a solid step ahead of Cal.

For once, the teams seem to have plenty in common, at least on the face of it.

They're both once-beaten, each having lost to a powerhouse. For USC (4-1, 2-0 in Pacific 10), it was Florida State. For Cal (3-1, 1-0) it was Nebraska.

Neither team has a loss in the early going of the Pac-10 season, but before anybody spends much energy thinking about the Rose Bowl, each needs to find a sustained offensive attack.

"It's a team carried by its defense, similar to ours," USC Coach Paul Hackett said. "The game matches up very well. I guess you could say it's their strength versus our weakness, and our strength versus their weakness."

Nevertheless, USC is favored again, on the theory that even a sputtering Trojan offense, which might be without tailback Chad Morton for a second consecutive game because of a bruised back, has R. Jay Soward to score touchdowns and backup quarterback Carson Palmer to spark whatever rally the Trojans need.

"I'm sure Coach Hackett is a little concerned with what's going on with the offense," Holmoe said. "It's not unlike us. Our offense could bust out at any time, and I know theirs could. Any time you put the ball in the hands of Chad Morton or R. Jay Soward, it could be a touchdown."

USC's defense against Cal's offense--considerably more inept than USC's so far--might be plain overkill. The Trojans lead the Pac-10 in total defense, and Cal is 109th of 112 Division I-A teams in total offense.

That isn't much of a recommendation for the West Coast offense both teams use.

"The West Coast offense, I think it's sometimes misrepresented," Hackett said. "What it is, is a way of coaching the quarterbacks and a way of calling the plays. Everybody puts their own flair on it.

"Ours is that we run the ball, and we run it out of the I-formation. But we're only at 25%-30% of our playbook. We're limited, by the offensive line, by the youth of our quarterbacks, by the tailback situation.

"Three years from now, when we have quarterbacks who've been here a long time and tackles who are seniors, you'll see a different offense."

The wild card for Cal is quarterback Justin Vedder, who passed for 2,718 yards last season after arriving in Berkeley from Saddleback College and Laguna Hills High.

It's been a different story for Vedder so far this season, and he has missed some practice time with shoulder soreness, as well.

Playing behind a line that has redshirt freshmen at left guard and right tackle, Vedder ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency--sandwiched between No. 9, USC's Mike Van Raaphorst and No. 11, USC's Palmer.

Against Washington State in the Bears' last game two weeks ago, Vedder was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.

Vedder also drew attention to himself this week with some remarks to Bay Area newspapers, saying the Trojans are "not the team they once were, obviously. But they're still arrogant."

Linebacker Sekou Sanyika said the Trojans are "no different than the Beavers or the Ducks or the Huskies."

Even Holmoe complained about how his onetime San Francisco 49er teammate Riki Ellison, a former Trojan, had a Mercedes-Benz with a horn that played "Fight On." Holmoe also talked about how USC used to be like Florida State and Ohio State--with the emphasis on the used to be.

There wasn't much response from USC, although Hackett quickly pointed out the remarks to his players.

"Honestly, since I've been here, I've known them as a team that talks," cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. "I don't let it get to me. Everyone on the team deals with it differently.

"[Vedder] put himself in a situation where he faces a bigger challenge. People might be out to get him now."

McCutcheon, a senior, said he wouldn't go around counseling his teammates on how to react, however.

"Some people feed off things like that," he said. "Maybe some guy will get six sacks. I'm not going to take their motivation away."

* TODAY

California at No. 19 USC

* Time: 3:30 p.m.

* TV: Fox Sports West 2

* Radio: XTRA (690)

* USC REPORT

Morton is doubtful, but he will test his bruised back before the game. Page 4

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