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Trojans Zero In

Defense is overpowering, and offense rolls up 553 yards in rout

September 12, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

The second-largest crowd in history for a USC home opener showed up Saturday night at the Coliseum to welcome the defending national champion Trojans in their first Southland appearance since the Rose Bowl.

And USC appeared determined to provide enough individual highlight plays for virtually every one of the 85,521 fans in attendance during its 49-0 rout of Colorado State.

Colorado native LenDale White showed off the Trojans' rushing attack by rambling for 123 of the team's 322 yards rushing and scoring three touchdowns.

On a night that featured a game-time temperature of 87 degrees, quarterback Matt Leinart coolly passed for 231 yards and two touchdowns without an interception for an offense that featured a vastly improved receiving corps that helped the Trojans amass 553 yards and 32 first downs.

And the Trojan defense intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles as USC extended its winning streak to 11 games and its home winning streak to 16.

"This was a nice evening, what you'd want when you come home," Coach Pete Carroll said.

USC limited the Rams to 48 yards rushing, sacked Colorado State quarterback Justin Holland four times and pressured him into bad throws throughout the night. The result was USC's fifth shutout in Carroll's three-plus seasons.

"We like to post goose eggs every game, but it's really difficult," said senior linebacker Matt Grootegoed, who intercepted two passes. "But the way we played tonight, if we keep doing this, we'll be all right."

The only home-opening crowd larger than Saturday's was 86,124 for a 1988 game against Oklahoma. USC won that game, 23-7, and compiled a 10-0 record before losing to Notre Dame in the regular-season finale.

This year's team does not talk about the possibility of a perfect season, but performances such as the one the Trojans produced Saturday might pave the way.

"We just dominated," said Leinart, who completed 20 of 31 passes, including third-quarter touchdown throws of five yards to flanker Steve Smith and four yards to wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. "That's what we needed."

USC (2-0) had defeated Virginia Tech, 24-13, in its season opener two weeks ago, leaving some observers to wonder if the Trojans were worthy of their preseason No. 1 ranking.

After Saturday night's game, Leinart said the players had met without coaches during the week to discuss their goals.

"We don't care about rankings; we want to go out there and have an attitude, have that hunger we had last year as the season progressed," Leinart said.

Colorado State receiver David Anderson said the Trojans already possess it.

"You can tell they have national championship qualities," said Anderson, who caught nine passes for 137 yards. "But you can't turn the ball over twice in the red zone against a team like that."

Colorado State was hoping to top the feat pulled off by the Rams' 1994 team, which defeated fourth-ranked Arizona, 21-16, at Tucson.

In its season-opening 27-24 loss to rival Colorado last week, Colorado State overcame a 17-point second-quarter deficit and had a chance to win the game in the last 30 seconds.

But Saturday's game was over by halftime as USC rolled up 21 first downs and took advantage of Grootegoed's first interception en route to a 28-0 lead.

With USC leading, 7-0, Colorado State had a third and two at the Trojan 15 on the first play of the second quarter. Quarterback Justin Holland threw a pass for tight end Kevin McPeek, but Grootegoed stepped in front of McPeek and raced down to the left sideline 57 yards to the Ram 32-yard line.

Two plays later, White scored on a one-yard run and the Trojans were on their way.

Colorado State (0-2) was ripe to be run on after giving up 255 yards rushing in against Colorado last week. The Trojans' 322 yards were their most since gaining 331 against Ohio State in 1990.

White, a sophomore from Denver, scored on runs of 11, one and three yards to stake the Trojans to a 21-0 lead.

"Tonight, I just didn't worry about anything," said White, who registered his fourth 100-yard game. "I just knew the holes were going to be there. I believed the offensive line was going to take care of it tonight."

So did the offensive linemen, who said they cleaned up many of the mistakes that plagued them against Virginia Tech.

"The first game we had a lot of critics -- this is a moment for us to get a little identity, a little respect," guard Fred Matua said.

Holland, who passed for 403 yards against Colorado, finished 19 for 35 for 233 yards.

Linebacker Dallas Sartz and cornerback Eric Wright also intercepted passes for the Trojans, and defensive tackle Manuel Wright scored the last touchdown early in the fourth quarter when he picked up a fumble caused by defensive end Jeff Schweiger and returned it 20 yards for the score.

USC, which improved to 12-3-1 against Mountain West Conference teams, plays Mountain West member Brigham Young next week at Provo, Utah.

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