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Jarrett is once again at his best against Irish

NO. 3 USC 44, NO. 6 NOTRE DAME 24

November 26, 2006|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

Now it can be told, the secret to Dwayne Jarrett's success, all those leaping, diving, juggling catches.

Uncle Dave.

In the backyard.

When he was a kid in New Jersey, Jarrett says, his uncle "forced me to make one-handed catches."

The practice paid off Saturday night at the Coliseum as USC rolled over Notre Dame, 44-24, and Jarrett reminded everyone why he was an All-American last season.

The final statistics were impressive -- seven catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns -- but paled when compared to the truth of his performance.

Unlike last fall, when the receiver stung Notre Dame with a fourth-down reception, this year's performance featured numerous big plays.

It began on the opening drive when Jarrett out-muscled Notre Dame safety Chinedum Ndukwe for a nine-yard touchdown. Minutes later, he added a five-yard scoring catch.

His 25-yard catch in the second quarter fueled yet another drive as USC sprinted to a 21-3 lead.

But then the Trojans hit a rough patch as an ill-advised John David Booty pass toward Steve Smith was intercepted, then another was picked on a botched screen play.

Up in the coach's booth, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin asked to get Booty on the phone, taking blame for making a bad call and telling his quarterback: "Get over it."

At the start of the second half, the score was 21-10 and the USC offense needed to get over its jitters.

Enter Jarrett, who is forever telling Booty: Just throw me the ball and I'll find a way to catch it.

"He always says that," Booty said. "You throw the ball in his range and he's such a great leaper, he goes up and gets it."

On the opening drive of the third quarter, Booty threw hard to the sideline and Jarrett reached out with one hand, cradling the ball into his stomach for a first down deep in Notre Dame territory.

The Trojans scored two plays later. 28-10. Jitters forgotten.

That quickly, USC was back to a game plan that focused on creating one-on-one matchups for Jarrett and Smith, pitting them against defensive backs that were either slower and weaker, or both.

Better to test the Irish that way than confront a physical run defense. As Kiffin explained, "We were going to win by throwing the ball."

The fourth quarter opened with yet another spectacular Jarrett catch. On third and 13, Booty threw high over two Irish defenders and Jarrett leaped to catch the ball for a first down.

He struck again on the next drive, catching a pass over the middle just as Notre Dame cornerback Mike Richardson lined up for a big hit.

Jarrett not only held onto the ball, he spun away and, from a standing start, outraced three more defenders to the end zone.

Afterward, Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis congratulated him. "Jarrett has three scores and that makes an aggressive game plan look good," Weis said.

And Jarrett, while recalling games of catch in the backyard, hinted about another motivation. Notre Dame had recruited him, but dropped out after worries about him qualifying academically. There were also the bumps and bruises he had suffered this fall.

Coming off last year's award-winning season, Jarrett battled injuries through training camp, then got publicly called out by Kiffin after a subpar performance in the opener at Arkansas.

He insisted the harsh words did not hurt. "That was just him making me better," the receiver said.

But Kiffin wonders if Jarrett was stung by missing a trip to Washington State because of another injury -- "Watching games at home; he's never done that before" -- and by not being named a finalist for season-ending honors such as the Biletnikoff Award.

"It's not been the way he wanted it to be," Kiffin said of this season. "I think he wanted to show something."

Leaping catches along the sideline. Tough catches over the middle. One-handed grabs.

"Just me being me," Jarrett said.

With a little help from Uncle Dave.

*

david.wharton@latimes.com

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