Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, USC's two big-play wide receivers, are the strength of the Trojans' offense. They combine talent and experience to lead a passing attack that will be challenged by UCLA's improved secondary, led by cornerback Trey Brown and strong safety Chris Horton. Times staff writer Lonnie White breaks down the competition:
Jarrett, 6 feet 5 and 215 pounds, a junior from New Jersey, has great size and good speed along with a knack for making difficult catches look easy. After being slowed because of injuries early this season, Jarrett has been on a roll.
In last week's victory over Notre Dame, Jarrett caught three touchdown passes and finished with seven receptions for a game-high 132 yards, which included a highlight-reel, one-hand grab.
USC quarterback John David Booty likes to throw high to Jarrett, who does a good job of using his jumping ability to make catches over smaller defensive backs. But Jarrett is also dangerous on short, quick pass plays because of his ability to break tackles and run after the catch. He has 55 receptions for 742 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns this season.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 03, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
College football: In Wednesday's Sports section, a story on UCLA football said freshman Alterraun Verner has made some big plays this season, including one interception return for a touchdown. Verner has made two interception returns for touchdowns.
At 6 feet and 200 pounds, Smith is a lot smaller than Jarrett -- but still bigger than UCLA's cornerbacks. Smith plays an important role in the Trojans' offense, leading the team with 58 catches for 909 yards with eight touchdowns.
USC likes to feature Smith, a senior from Canoga Park, in a variety of ways, especially as a slot receiver matched against a safety, linebacker or third cornerback. Smith, who is not afraid to go across the middle, has seven games with at least five catches this season.
He was at his best in USC's midseason loss at Oregon State, equaling a career high with 11 receptions for a career-best 258 yards and two touchdown passes.
UCLA's top cornerback is Brown, son of former UCLA and NFL running back Theotis Brown. At 5-9 and 185 pounds, he has made 40 tackles, including 30 solos, and leads the Bruins with four interceptions, using toughness and consistency to counter his smaller stature.
Defending taller and bigger players is nothing new for Brown, who for three seasons -- and 28 consecutive starts -- has faced the top wide receivers in the Pac-10. This season, the junior from Overland Park, Kan., has already faced Washington State's Jason Hill, Oregon's Jaison Williams and Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight.
Rodney Van is the UCLA cornerback most often picked on by opposing quarterbacks. Van, a junior from Long Beach, is good in single coverage but at times has struggled to make tackles and plays on the ball.
After coming close to losing his starting job to freshman Alterraun Verner at midseason, Van has responded with solid play in recent weeks.
Verner, who still sees considerable playing time, has made some big plays this season -- including one interception return for a touchdown -- and is used whenever the Bruins turn to nickel-and-dime coverages in passing situations.
Van (5-11) and Verner (5-10) are both taller but smaller than Brown, each barely weighing 170 pounds. To be effective, they will need help from free safety Dennis Keyes and Horton.
Final call: Dennis Keyes (6-2, 195) and Horton (6-1, 210) like to deliver big hits and will be looking to send messages to Jarrett and Smith whenever they cross the middle of the field.
But USC's wide receivers are familiar to this tactic. They go against it every day in practice, and that may give Jarrett and Smith an edge.