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USC Has Feat on the Ground

Leinart is sharp and defense is stout, but running game is the key ingredient as Trojans go to 3-0 with a 61-32 victory over Hawaii.

September 14, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Balance became the watchword for USC going into its final preconference game against Hawaii.

The fourth-ranked Trojans wanted a rushing attack to help their passing game and unwavering intensity, regardless of the score.

USC achieved its goals Saturday and the result was a lopsided 61-32 victory before a crowd of 73,654 at the Coliseum.

Sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart played almost without error, the running backs turned in a breakthrough performance and the first-team defense was unyielding as the Trojans extended their overall and home winning streaks to 11 games.

After defeating Auburn, Brigham Young and Hawaii, USC has a bye before starting Pacific 10 Conference play on Sept. 27 at California.

"We've done everything we hoped," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "We found a quarterback that can win for us and we've recaptured our sense of how we go about these games no matter who we play."

Last week, USC took a 21-0 first quarter lead against BYU and then lapsed for more than two quarters before clinching the victory with a fourth-quarter drive.

There was no letting up against Hawaii (1-1), which defeated Division I-AA Appalachian State in its opener.

The Trojans led, 10-6, in the second quarter before going on a 42-point run that did not end until Hawaii scored on a five-yard pass from quarterback Timmy Chang to Chad Owens with 1:25 left in the third quarter.

Leinart, who had three passes intercepted against BYU, completed 15 of 21 attempts for 220 yards and two touchdowns without an interception as the Trojans amassed 418 yards.

Senior flanker Keary Colbert caught five passes for 86 yards and scored on a 32-yard pass play. Sophomore wide receiver Mike Williams had three receptions for 70 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left in the first half.

But it was the running game that sparked the Trojans.

Freshman LenDale White gained 58 yards in 10 carries and scored two touchdowns, freshman Reggie Bush gained 54 yards in nine carries and scored two touchdowns, and sophomore Hershel Dennis added 52 yards in nine carries.

Dennis said the season-high 164 yards rushing helped erase the embarrassment of last week's 71-yard effort against BYU.

"The whole week of practice, that was what we were focused on -- showing we could do it on the ground too," Dennis said.

Said Williams: "When we're throwing the ball deep, they [defenses] have to respect that, so they back up. When we're running and breaking big gains they have to come up. They go hand in hand."

USC played five defensive backs for most of the game to counter Chang and the Warriors' run-and-shoot passing attack. Chang completed 32 of 54 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns, but much of his success came against Trojan reserves.

USC's first-team defense did not surrender a touchdown.

"They're as good as people say they are," Chang said. "They play hard in all phases."

USC's defensive line draws most of the attention, but it was the secondary that provided big plays against Hawaii.

Cornerback Ronald Nunn broke a 3-3 tie by returning a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown with 11:46 left in the first half. Safety Jason Leach returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown to make the score 45-6 with 5:28 left in the third quarter.

Defensive end Frostee Rucker intercepted a pass by Chang on the first play of the ensuing possession, setting up White's five-yard touchdown run that made it 52-6.

"I think maybe Hawaii might have just [given] up a little bit earlier than BYU did," USC defensive end Omar Nazel said. "BYU maintained their fight throughout the whole game. When Hawaii started getting down, they started putting their heads down. You could kind of see it in their eyes. They started losing focus."

The score was tied, 3-3, at the end of the first quarter on a 24-yard field goal by USC's Ryan Killeen and a 35-yarder by Hawaii's Justin Ayat.

USC got a break in the second quarter when Gerald Welch jumped to catch a short pass from Chang in the right flat. Welch hit the ground without being touched, but he lost control of the ball and Nunn scooped it up and ran 38 yards for a touchdown.

Hawaii Coach June Jones questioned officials about the play, but said he received no clarification.

"Either he didn't have the ball and it's incomplete or [he] had the ball and lost it when his knee was down," Jones said.

Nunn also thought the pass was incomplete. "But we're trained to pick it up and run, and that's what I did," he said.

Ayat kicked a 20-yard field goal on the ensuing possession to make it 10-6, before USC reeled off 21 unanswered points in the final five minutes of the second quarter. Bush turned his first carry of the game into a 23-yard touchdown run and Leinart connected with Colbert and Williams on scoring plays that gave the Trojans a 31-6 halftime lead.

The onslaught continued after the break with a 27-yard touchdown run by Bush, Leach's interception return and White's first touchdown run that gave the Trojans a 52-6 lead.

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