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USC Sweats the Small Stuff

After beating two ranked teams, Trojans struggle with one of Pac-10's little fish, Arizona, in 42-21 win.

October 09, 2005|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

It was not a case of looking ahead. Or taking a struggling opponent lightly.

No, USC Coach Pete Carroll and his players insisted, the top-ranked Trojans' performance during a 42-21 victory over Arizona on Saturday was just another example of doing what it takes to achieve victory.

As for style points ...

"I don't care how we win," said Carroll, whose team plays at Notre Dame next week. "There are prettier ways and more comfortable ways, but I don't worry about that."

Aspects of USC's 27th consecutive victory, its 23rd in a row at home, looked beautiful on paper, if not to the crowd of 90,221 at the Coliseum.

* The Trojans, who improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference, rolled up 724 yards of offense and generated 39 first downs.

* Running backs LenDale White and Reggie Bush each eclipsed 100 yards rushing for a school-record third consecutive game and White scored four touchdowns.

* Quarterback Matt Leinart rebounded from last week's concussion and tossed two touchdown passes to split end Dwayne Jarrett.

But the Trojans also committed two turnovers, gave up several long kickoff returns by Syndric Steptoe and needed a fourth-quarter interception by safety Ryan Ting to repel a stubborn Arizona team that has only one victory.

"I was never nervous," said Leinart, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 360 yards with an interception. "It was probably a lot closer than most people thought, but we still won by three touchdowns."

White acknowledged that the bar of expectations from fans and the media continues to rise for a team that is on a quest for an unprecedented third straight national title.

"Sometimes they set it too high," said White, who rushed for 179 yards in 24 carries and scored on runs on one, two, one and six yards. "They want us to come out and score 70 points and hold the team to zero every time."

Bush, who gained 110 yards in 14 carries despite a minor knee sprain suffered in the first quarter, said the results speak for themselves.

"We're taking everybody's best shot and we just keep fighting and keep winning games," he said. "We can't complain when we're winning games."

After hard-fought comeback victories at Oregon and Arizona State, both top-25 teams, USC was hoping for an easier time against Arizona, which was coming off a 28-0 loss at California.

But the Wildcats took advantage of a first-quarter fumble by Desmond Reed and trailed only 14-7 at the end of the half -- despite being outgained, 321 yards to 96. USC was ahead, 28-21, at the end of the third quarter.

"We came out a little flat," said USC middle linebacker Oscar Lua, who made a team-high 10 tackles. "It was kind of a disappointing day for the defense as far as letting them score."

Leinart's 29-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett with 12:48 left in the game put USC ahead, 35-21, and set the stage for Ting's play.

Arizona started at its 35 and quickly moved downfield on quarterback Richard Kovalcheck's 19-yard pass to tight end Brad Wood and a roughing-the-passer penalty against defensive end Lawrence Jackson on the next play.

A 17-yard run by tailback Mike Bell gave Arizona a first down at the Trojan 14. But Kovalcheck threw incomplete on first down, and short passes to by Bell and Gilbert Harris left the Wildcats with fourth and two at the six.

Kovalcheck, in shotgun formation, threw a pass toward Wood in the end zone. But USC linebacker Collin Ashton tipped the ball into the air and Ting grabbed it to end the threat.

"The ball felt like it was in the air forever," Ting said "Fortunately, I came down with it."

It was the second straight game in which a reserve safety made a key interception for the Trojans. Last week against Arizona State, freshman Kevin Ellison suffered a season-ending knee injury while intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter.

"We're like interchangeable parts, we're like a machine," Ting said. "If one guy goes down, it's unfortunate, but we just have to step up and do our job."

USC took over at its four-yard line and moved to the 29 before Bush broke loose for a 65-yard gain to the Arizona six. White's six-yard scoring run provided the final margin with 7:59 remaining.

"It kind of takes us a while to get our swagger, but once it comes we can't be beat," tight end Dominque Byrd said. "Other people might worry, but we never do."

Jarrett, who also had a 22-yard touchdown catch, finished with nine receptions for 116 yards. Flanker Steve Smith caught seven passes for 135 yards. Leinart completed passes to 10 receivers.

USC limited Arizona to 64 yards rushing and 245 total yards, although Kovalcheck did pass for 181 yards and three touchdowns.

Arizona, which converted only one of nine third downs, fell to 1-4 overall, 0-2 in the Pac-10.

"We play a lot of young players and they have to grow up fast in a very competitive league," second-year Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said. "We're thin in some areas and USC can expose those weaknesses."

Now, USC will turn its attention to No. 12 Notre Dame, which had an open date this week.

"They're just next up on the 'Leave No Doubt' tour," defensive end Frostee Rucker said. "We just have to go up there, South Bend, and do what we do."

Bush said the Trojans were ready for the Fighting Irish.

"The media is going to play it out to be the game of the century or whatever," he said. "But we're just going to take it like another game."

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