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Receivers Take a Giant Step Forward

Smith, McFoy and Jarrett shake off poor first game to help out Leinart when needed.

September 12, 2004|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

It was the sort of play that gets buried in the statistics.

Early in the second quarter, USC quarterback Matt Leinart scrambled out of the pocket, moving to his right.

It was the sort of play where, two weeks ago against Virginia Tech, the young Trojan receivers appeared lost, unsure of what to do.

This time, sophomore Chris McFoy was downfield and immediately turned in the same direction as his running quarterback. When Leinart threw short, McFoy came back to catch the ball at the one-yard line.

The reception won't make any highlight reels, but on a Saturday when the USC tailbacks grabbed most of the glory, scoring most of the touchdowns in a 49-0 rout of Colorado State at the Coliseum, it showed that McFoy and the other receivers have improved.

And that was a good thing for an inexperienced group that needed to get better.

"It just felt more natural out there," McFoy said. "We were more in sync. Our timing was down."

The Trojans knew there would be adjustments with the receivers this fall, if only because Keary Colbert had moved on to the NFL.

Steve Smith, a sophomore, figured to fill Colbert's spot. But the loss of Mike Williams, who tried to make himself available for the NFL draft and was deemed ineligible by the NCAA, forced McFoy and freshman Dwayne Jarrett to step up sooner than expected.

Against Virginia Tech, the three new starters accounted for only 87 of USC's 272 receiving yards. Tailback Reggie Bush caught five passes for 127 yards in that game. Even fullback David Kirtman outplayed most of the receivers.

Afterward, the group had a little talk. "We said we've got to play harder," Jarrett recalled. "Just to prove to everybody that we can carry on the torch of Mike and Keary."

Receivers coach Lane Kiffin had some ideas too. He made his players concentrate on little things in practice, lining up in exactly the right spots, running routes to an exact depth.

"They knew it on paper," Kiffin said. "But they had to do it in a game."

Smith, the relative veteran, made the most emphatic statement against Colorado State. His team-high eight receptions for 79 yards included a five-yard touchdown catch that lengthened USC's lead to 35-0 in the third quarter.

But not everything went well.

Junior receiver Greig Carlson and Leinart botched the exchange on a reverse play, leading to a first-quarter fumble.

Jarrett dropped several passes. He recovered to make a leaping, four-yard touchdown catch at the end of the third quarter.

Kiffin described his players as a work in progress. "There's obviously a lot we can improve on ... we've got a long way to go," he said.

Jarrett, who turned 18 on Saturday, had three catches for 32 yards. McFoy had four for 59 yards, none of them better than the second-quarter play that gained 31 yards and bailed out his quarterback.

"We worked a lot on scrambling drills" the last two weeks, McFoy said. "Once I saw him going, I knew I had to break off my route and give him a target."

It was a simple play. The kind a veteran makes. "It was just being aware," he said. "It's just more comfortable now."

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