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93rd ROSE BOWL | USC 32, MICHIGAN 18

USC's green light gets Booty going

Second-half, air-it-out strategy is perfect for the Trojans quarterback, who throws for four touchdowns as his confidence grows.

January 02, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

In the aisles of the Rose Bowl and in the anonymity of the wide open Internet, as USC was tied with Michigan, 3-3, at halftime, USC fans were giving up on quarterback John David Booty. Bring in backup Mark Sanchez, they said. Only less politely.

But in the locker room at halftime Monday, safe among his teammates and coaches, Booty heard something wonderful.

"Coaches said we were going to throw the ball, throw the ball," Booty said. "Just what I wanted to hear."

So Booty threw the ball. On USC's second offensive possession of the second half, Booty threw four consecutive passes. He completed them all -- to Steve Smith for seven yards, to Allen Bradford for four yards, to Dwayne Jarrett for 25 yards, to Chris McFoy for two yards and a touchdown. Each ball was thrown hard and well. It was, said former USC quarterback Matt Leinart, "As if you could see John David's confidence growing on each completion. I am standing here as happy for John David as I've ever been for anybody."

At halftime, Booty had completed 10 of 16 passes for 102 yards and no touchdowns. In the second half, he completed 17 of 29 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns.

The Trojans won, 32-18, and with each throw, with each completion -- the delicate touch passes that floated over the Michigan defensive line, the sizzling spirals that found Jarrett even when the receiver was double- or triple-covered -- Booty's footwork became quicker, his aim more assured.

"It was like he was growing up," said senior receiver Steve Smith, who caught seven of Booty's passes for 108 yards and gave his quarterback a long hug at the end of the game.

Added USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin: "There's no doubt that he had something to prove, but John David really had something to prove to himself. That's how he is. He wants to be the best. We talked about it at halftime and said we were going to put it on his shoulders."

Michigan linebacker Dave Harris said he was still shellshocked by Booty's performance. "His accuracy in the second half was incredible," Harris said. "All credit to him. I don't think we expected that."

After USC had been upset by UCLA, 13-9, last month on this same field, Booty absorbed a large amount of blame. Too many tipped passes, too little bravery in the face of UCLA's pass rush, too little resemblance to USC's last two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Leinart and Carson Palmer.

"The UCLA game was the lowest of my lows," Booty said after the Rose Bowl victory, awash in the camera lights that made his eyes sparkle. "This second half tonight, it was my dream. My highest high."

USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson said it was a pleasure watching Booty in the second half and that it was no surprise.

"We all know what kind of character John David has," Jackson said. "We know what kind of leader he is. We knew what kind of arm he has. We knew what he would do with the faith we put in him."

After he left high school a semester early to come from Louisiana to USC, as he waited patiently on the bench for Leinart to finish his eligibility, as he submitted to back surgery last spring and then beat out Sanchez, Booty never said a negative word. He accepted criticism for a tipped pass at the end of USC's upset loss at Oregon State and was stoic during this last month as he recovered from the UCLA loss.

Only once Monday night, after the fifth question about the UCLA game, did Booty have a peevish moment.

"Honestly, I haven't thought about that game since two days out of it," Booty said. "Yet you keep asking about it."

Not anymore. "Ask him about the touchdown passes," Jarrett said. "Four of them, right?"

Right. Booty didn't want to talk about those much either.

"I can hardly wait for next year," Booty said. "I want to throw the ball again right now."

*

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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