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Everything Clicks on the First Time

September 01, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

As first-time starters playing marquee positions, quarterback Matt Leinart passed muster and tailback Hershel Dennis carried himself with aplomb in USC's stunning season-opening victory over Auburn.

They, however, were only two of seven first-time starters that helped the Trojans win, 23-0, and establish themselves as contenders for the national title.

On Sunday, Coach Pete Carroll praised the efforts of right guard Fred Matua, fullback Lee Webb, tight end Dominique Byrd, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and strong safety Darnell Bing.

He also complimented all of the 16 Trojans who played for the first time, but emphasized the philosophy that will permeate workouts in preparation for Saturday's game against Brigham Young.

"What you did yesterday doesn't mean anything," Carroll said. "It's, what are you going to do now?"

The first-time starters against Auburn looked like potential season-long contributors.

Matua, a redshirt freshman from Wilmington Banning High, was challenging for a start in last season's opener against Auburn before suffering a knee injury. Webb arrived at USC from Crenshaw High as a fullback, was switched to linebacker then back to fullback last season.

"Freddie has come a long way -- he's really becoming consistent with what we're doing," Carroll said. "Webb gave us better blocking in this opening game than we had at any time last year."

Byrd, a sophomore from Minnesota, came to USC as a tight end but was switched briefly last season to the defensive line. He earned his spot as the starting tight end in training camp because returning starter Alex Holmes is not recovered from a back injury and is expected to be a redshirt.

Byrd caught three passes for 63 yards against Auburn. He produced the longest play of the game when Leinart bootlegged and threw Byrd a short pass that he turned into a 42-yard gain.

"I was just really surprised I was that open," Byrd said after the game. "I kept looking back thinking, 'There has to be somebody around.' "

Tatupu, a transfer from Division I-AA Maine, called the defensive signals and recorded a game-high 12 tackles.

"I just rallied around the rest of the guys," he said. "The coaches put me in the right positions."

Bing wasted no time making an impact as Troy Polamalu's replacement. His interception of a tipped pass on the third play from scrimmage set up the Trojans' first touchdown. He also recovered a fumble and made four tackles.

"I wanted to keep the ball and run for the end zone," he said of the interception. "I would have loved to score but my shoe fell off."

Freshman receiver Steve Smith, freshman running backs Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Chauncey Washington, senior cornerback Will Poole, junior offensive lineman John Drake and sophomore defensive lineman Frostee Rucker were other first-year players who played multiple snaps.

Despite the convincing victory, Carroll said there was plenty of room for improvement.

Senior Center Norm Katnik recognized as much.

"When there were turnovers, we scored points, but we didn't drive the ball down the field real well," Katnik said.

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