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Short-Term Gains Aren't Enough for This Team

September 30, 2006|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

PULLMAN, Wash. — Pete Carroll went on the offensive about USC's offense this week, presenting statistical comparisons and telling just about anyone who would listen that the Trojans were performing better than the 2003 team that also featured a new quarterback and several freshman running backs.

Carroll cited "extensive studies" that showed the Trojans were passing and rushing for more yards than when Matt Leinart took over the offense and Reggie Bush and LenDale White were breaking in.

"It's important for our team to know that, because they have a sense that they're not living up to expectations," Carroll said.

A 20-3 victory over Arizona will do that to players and a coaching staff accustomed to winning big and, perhaps more important, winning with big plays.

Just as it did against Nebraska, USC squandered several chances for potentially momentum-shifting gains or touchdowns in its Pacific 10 Conference opener last week. The Trojans needed an Arizona turnover to set up a late touchdown that allowed them to leave Tucson with a victory margin greater than 10 points.

But it's not as if the Trojans are struggling.

Entering today's game against Washington State, third-ranked USC is unbeaten and remains on track to contend for its third consecutive appearance in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

The defense appears to be among the nation's best, and quarterback John David Booty has been efficient, completing 66% of his passes with seven touchdowns and only one interception.

But Booty and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin acknowledge that something has been missing from the offense.

"When you have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them," Booty said.

The Trojans' longest gain from scrimmage is a 44-yard catch-and-run by fullback Ryan Powdrell in the season opener at Arkansas. No USC receiver has a reception of more than 25 yards.

"We haven't hit a big pass all year," Kiffin said.

Kiffin said a running game without the multiple threats Bush presented allowed USC's first three opponents to run defensive schemes "that don't allow you to be as aggressive" with longer passes.

But a lack of big plays would not be an issue if the Trojans had simply converted easy opportunities.

Against Nebraska, senior flanker Steve Smith caught himself admiring a move that sent a Cornhuskers cornerback to the ground, and he failed to catch up to a Booty pass.

Tight end Fred Davis said a certain touchdown pass sailed through his hands against Arizona because his concentration had momentarily lapsed when Booty looked away before throwing to him.

"Those are plays that we had grown accustomed to getting when we get guys in that kind of clear," Carroll said.

USC also occasionally blew big-play opportunities when Leinart and Bush were rewriting the school's record book and winning Heisman Trophies. But those failures were often quickly forgotten in the onslaught of spectacular scoring plays that usually followed.

This season has been different.

"It stands out more because you need them more," Kiffin said of big plays. "It's hard to overcome second and long and third and long, because we're not averaging eight yards a play.

"You can't expect the defense to hold them to three points every game."

USC's big-play potential took a hit when All-American split end Dwayne Jarrett sprained his left shoulder against Arizona. Sophomore Patrick Turner and senior Chris McFoy are expected to take the majority of snaps in his place today.

Booty compared losing Jarrett to the New York Yankees' losing shortstop and captain Derek Jeter.

"It hurts you, but you have guys that have to step up," Booty said.

Playing on the road for the third time in four games, USC faces a Washington State team that has won three straight since losing its season opener at Auburn.

The Cougars rank fourth in the Pac-10 in total defense, giving up an average of 307 yards, and are third in pass defense, 111 yards a game.

After losing here in overtime in 2002, the Trojans dominated Washington State the next three seasons, outscoring the Cougars, 140-41.

Last season, USC won, 55-13, and rolled up a season-high 745 yards, the most ever surrendered by Washington State.

Smith, who caught two touchdown passes during a 28-point first quarter, is confident that this season's offense can become similarly productive.

"As long as we have games under control and our offense if going fine, I think the big plays will come," he said.



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Now and then

Comparing USC's statistics through three games in 2003 and this season:

*--* 2003 CATEGORY 2006 119.3 Rush offense 178.7 227.0 Pass offense 238.7 346.3 Total offense 417.3 39.7 Scoring offense 32.7 50.7 Rushing defense 60.7 277.7 Passing defense 156.7 328.3 Total defense 217.3 16.7 Scoring defense 9.0 +2.0 Turnover margin +2.0 54 First downs 75 29:26 Possession 35:10



Source: USC

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