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USC REWIND

Carroll Supports Leinart; Running Game Doesn't

September 29, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

A day after thousands of California fans ran onto the field and chanted "over-rated, over-rated" following USC's triple-overtime loss at Memorial Stadium, voters in the Associated Press poll spoke as well.

USC dropped seven spots to No. 10.

The players anticipated their fate after the 34-31 defeat in the Pacific 10 Conference opener. None seemed overly concerned about one loss, even though it ended USC's 11-game winning streak and hurt its chances to make a run for the national title.

"It's not the end of the season, we still have a lot of games left," quarterback Matt Leinart said.

Leinart, who suffered a knee bruise and also needed attention for a cramping calf muscle during the game, had his most uneven performance of the season. He passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns, but had three passes intercepted for the second time in four games.

Coach Pete Carroll said Sunday that Leinart remains the starting quarterback, pending evaluation of his condition today.

"He gives us the best chance to win right now," Carroll said. "We'll stay with him."

On Saturday, Leinart struggled in the first half, completing five of 15 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions. Leinart had another pass intercepted in the fourth quarter and finished 21 for 39.

After the game, Carroll said Leinart was handicapped by a "dismal" running game. USC rushed for 99 yards, but 28 were credited to receivers Mike Williams and Keary Colbert for passes that were ruled laterals.

"I think he handled the game all right, but he missed some opportunities," Carroll said of Leinart. "There were balls that got away with some guys open.

"We need to run the football better so our offense is balanced out, so we don't have to rely on him sitting back there throwing footballs. That's not how we wanted to play this game or any game for that matter."

Williams, who caught six passes for 96 yards, praised Leinart for his physical toughness and for calling audibles that resulted in touchdown passes to Dominique Byrd in the first quarter and Keary Colbert in the second overtime.

But without prompting, Williams said talk of replacing Leinart with freshman John David Booty would likely surface among Trojan fans.

"Matt's the man," Williams said. "Matt's our leader. I wouldn't have anybody else out there."

Surprisingly, USC coaches turned to neither Leinart nor Williams in the final minutes of regulation. The Trojans drove to Cal's 22-yard line and called three consecutive running plays before summoning Ryan Killeen for a 33-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime.

"We weren't playing for a field goal," Carroll said Sunday. "We were trying to get first downs and keep the drive going.

"We never made a conscious decision to settle for a field goal."

USC, playing for the first time since Sept. 13, converted only three of 12 times on third down -- a rate Carroll described as "atrocious" -- and was penalized eight times for 73 yards.

In the fourth quarter, the Trojans were called for holding one play before Leinart's third interception. They also were flagged for holding on the second play of the third overtime. Three plays later, Killeen missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt and Cal took possession and won the game.

"They all seemed significant," Carroll said of the penalties.

Cal exploited USC's pass defense, but Carroll said freshman safety Darnell Bing was not entirely to blame for several long plays and touchdowns.

"He got in a couple situations that he needed some help on, that he was supposed to get help on," Carroll said.

USC could be without at least two starters when it plays Arizona State on Saturday at Tempe, Ariz. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and right tackle Winston Justice both suffered ankle sprains against Cal.

Carroll said Daniel Urquhart could start in Tatupu's place, or the Trojans could move Melvin Simmons to middle linebacker and return safety Dallas Sartz to one of the outside spots.

John Drake would start in place of Justice, Carroll said.

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