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Now He's the Marked Man

College football: Oregon State's Jackson emerges from Simonton's shadow and shines.

September 27, 2002|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oregon State running back Steven Jackson cut a mysterious figure when he trotted onto the field against USC last season.

The Trojans dissected film and prepared all week for small, quick Ken Simonton and his backup, Patrick McCall. But in the second quarter, along came Jackson, a burly freshman from Las Vegas who rumbled for 119 rushing yards and also caught a touchdown pass in the Beavers' 16-13 overtime loss.

"He didn't show up on any of the films," Trojan middle linebacker Mike Pollard said after the game. "We didn't realize how good he was."

USC's film library now features plenty of Jackson footage.

The 6-foot-1, 227-pound sophomore is ranked seventh nationally in rushing yardage. He is averaging 134 yards a game for the unbeaten Beavers, who defeated Eastern Kentucky, Temple, Nevada Las Vegas and Fresno State.

"He's run like crazy through the people he's been playing," USC Coach Pete Carroll said.

USC will try to control Jackson on Saturday when the No. 18 Trojans play No. 23 Oregon State in a Pacific 10 Conference opener at the Coliseum. Quarterback Derek Anderson and Jackson are the main cogs in a Beaver offense producing nearly 500 yards a game.

"It's going to be hard to focus on me," Jackson said. "All aspects of our game are clicking and we're making big plays. Coming in, we're on this adrenaline high."

Oregon State Coach Dennis Erickson is trying to lead the Beavers to their first victory over USC at the Coliseum since 1960. Last year, Jackson almost helped his team break the 18-game losing streak with his best performance of the season.

Oregon State trailed, 10-3, in the third quarter before Jackson carried the Beavers through a 96-yard drive. He gained 18 yards on the first play and added 44 more during a drive he capped with a four-yard touchdown reception. USC eventually won in overtime on a four-yard run by quarterback Carson Palmer.

Jackson finished the season as the Beavers' second-leading rusher with 390 yards in 74 carries. He also averaged 34.3 yards for seven kickoff returns, taking one 89 yards for a touchdown.

Earlier this week, Erickson said Jackson benefited from the opposition's focus on Simonton, the second leading rusher in Pac-10 history behind USC's Charles White.

"He came in when Kenny softened them up a little bit and now he's had to deal with being the back," Erickson said.

Jackson did not seem to mind in the opener when he rushed for 141 yards against Eastern Kentucky. He gained 117 yards against Temple, was limited to 51 against UNLV, then broke out with 227 yards in the Beavers' 59-19 victory last week over Fresno State.

"I came here because I knew I would get a chance to play early in my career," said Jackson, who chose Oregon State over Tennessee, Arizona State and UNLV. "I knew it would be up to me to work hard and that's what I've done.

"So far, so good."

USC defensive tackle Shaun Cody likes the matchup against Jackson's power-running style. The Trojans fared well against Colorado's Chris Brown, but struggled at times last week against Kansas State's smaller and more elusive Darren Sproles in a 27-20 defeat.

"We seem to do better against the bigger guys--the little guys give us more trouble," Cody said. "But it doesn't matter who's out there. We have to tackle better than we did last week."

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