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Randall's Skills Come Into Focus

The elusive Virginia Tech senior quarterback proves quite a handful for USC, which finally contains him in the second half.

August 29, 2004|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

LANDOVER, Md. — Apparently, pictures don't do Bryan Randall justice.

The USC defense had watched hours and hours of videotape on the Virginia Tech quarterback, but the real-life version turned out to be an entirely different matter.

"A lot faster," defensive tackle Mike Patterson said. "A lot better than what we saw on film."

So, on a Saturday night when the young Trojan offense struggled to find a rhythm, the veteran defense had problems of its own -- problems that had to be solved for No. 1 USC to pull out a 24-13 victory at FedEx Field.

As Coach Pete Carroll put it: "That quarterback was going crazy out there."

It turns out Randall had watched some film too.

The senior said he gets his confidence from preparation, knowing what to expect before he steps onto the field.

"I studied USC real hard," he said. "I saw on the field exactly what I saw on film."

He saw a chance to beat the Trojan defensive line with quickness. The play that hurt USC was simple: Randall faked a handoff to his running back, hesitated, then took off up-field.

On the second play from scrimmage, that translated into a 16-yard gain.

"He's a great athlete," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "You saw it

Tatupu got an early measure of revenge, dropping into zone coverage, tipping a Randall pass and grabbing it out of the air. That turnover led to the Trojans' taking a 7-0 lead.

Randall kept coming.

Runs of 21 and 20 yards put Virginia Tech in position for a field goal later in the first quarter. A 10-yard run in the second quarter set up a 12-yard touchdown pass.

That was enough to give the Hokies a 10-7 lead at halftime and give their fans -- who greatly outnumbered the USC contingent -- something to scream about.

"Are you kidding?" Carroll said. "Heck yeah we were concerned. They were ready to tear the roof off this place."

But this is a USC defense that over the last few seasons has made a habit of surrendering points early, settling down, making a few adjustments and getting tougher.

This time, the change was subtle. The Trojans tinkered with their defensive assignments, giving different players the responsibility of containing the quarterback.

The effect was evident: Randall, who rushed for 96 yards in the first half, was held to minus-14 the rest of the way.

"Once we stopped the run, they had to pass and that's what we look for," Patterson said. "We could rush him."

USC also appeared to get some help from the officials.

Late in the third quarter, Randall completed a 32-yard pass to receiver Josh Hyman that would have given Virginia Tech a first down at the USC 12-yard line. An official called offensive pass interference.

"I though the interference call was really a big one," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "You can't blame the officials for that.... I don't know how you saw it, but I thought it was kind of questionable."

Randall only shrugged: "I'm really not sure. I'm not a ref."

USC held him to no gain on the next play and sacked him after that, effectively ending the threat. On the ensuing drive, tailback Reggie Bush scored the second of his three touchdowns to put the Trojans ahead, 21-13.

The defense faced one more task when Virginia Tech got the ball with 2 minutes 21 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the score.

On third and 10, Patterson put a straight rush on the quarterback, stripped the ball out of Randall's hands and cornerback Ronald Nunn recovered. Ryan Killeen made a 41-yard field goal to put the game out of reach.

It wasn't a pretty victory -- not nearly as easy as expected -- but Patterson said the defense never panicked.

Not when Randall was running for big gains. Not when the crowd noise was so loud it was hard to make defensive calls.

"We've been in tough situations before," the lineman said. "We know what to do."

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