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Nazel's Wait Is Worth It

Trojans' chatty defensive end caps a convincing first quarter with an interception return for a touchdown.

September 07, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Omar Nazel is very careful to say the USC defense doesn't think it has to do everything.

He scored a touchdown anyway, just to do his part.

USC's dominating first quarter against Brigham Young in the Coliseum on Saturday was punctuated by the interception Nazel ran back 16 yards for a touchdown, holding the ball aloft in his right hand as he strutted across the goal line to give USC a 21-point lead.

"I've been waiting my whole life for that," the Trojan defensive end said. "I had one in high school -- actually two -- but never in front of 75,000 fans."

Nazel's last interception was last season against Auburn, but he didn't quite make it to the end zone.

"It was a little too far," he said. "I was on the other 20."

Nazel, a lean but powerful 6-foot-5, 245-pounder, isn't as prominent as tackle Shaun Cody, but he plays a vital role for the Trojans. He's a master of "chitter-chatter" as he calls it, and one of the voices of the team.

"He's lower profile than Cody, but I tell you what, Omar is the spark of our defensive line," assistant coach Ed Orgeron said. "He's a very vocal leader.

"He has a knack for big plays. His best attribute is he's a smart football player. He can really read the screen well."

It was a screen play that gave Nazel his third career interception, and first touchdown.

"A series before, the tackle tried to cut me, and I saw they ran a screen," he said.

"The next time, I got a little loose from my man and once I got off him, the ball was magnetically drawn to my hands."

Good thing the magnet held as he ran it in.

"I didn't know how to act," Nazel said. "That was a dream. I didn't know what I was supposed to do."

The defense is going to be asked to do a lot, from the looks of USC's 35-18 victory -- a game that was perilously close in the fourth quarter when BYU cut the lead to 21-18.

USC led, 21-0, after a first quarter in which Nazel had an interception return for a touchdown, a tackle for a loss and a sack. He nearly had another sack, but let the quarterback get away.

"He went too hard at the guy," Orgeron said. "He could have had three sacks in the first quarter. I'll live with it. I'll let him play full speed and make mistakes."

Speaking of mistakes, it was actually USC's offense that gave up the shutout on a safety when quarterback Matt Leinart was sacked in the end zone in the second quarter.

The defense was on the sideline when the chance for a second consecutive shutout evaporated.

Nazel was firm.

"It really doesn't matter who we have or what the situation is offensively. We're a unit, and we have to go out whether it's 70 plays or 100 plays and stop the offense. That's basically our mind-set every time we touch the field," he said.

Then he chose his words carefully.

"We saw the two points on the scoreboard and we were disappointed that action took place," he said. "We can only do what we can when we're on the field, not to take anything away from our offense. But we were pretty upset."

The way the offense looks, the defense will be under plenty of pressure to be perfect, someone said.

"It's not about pressure to keep it up," Nazel said. "It's pressure to be the best we can be."

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