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Turner is playing catch-up

USC's most experienced receiver knows he needs to rebound from poor game

September 19, 2007|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC receiver Patrick Turner reported for practice on Tuesday glad to have the previous day behind him.

On USC's "Tell the Truth" Mondays, coaches and players review tape of the Trojans' last game with no sugarcoating.

"I knew what was coming," said Turner, who last Saturday against Nebraska dropped as many passes as he caught -- three -- and fumbled after one of his receptions.

Turner's troubles against the Cornhuskers hurt quarterback John David Booty's statistics, but otherwise did not harm the Trojans. USC turned to its running game and romped to victory.

But as USC's most experienced receiver, Turner is regarded as a vital cog in the Trojans' passing attack -- and their chances of winning a national title. So getting the 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior from Tennessee on track is one of top-ranked USC's prime goals as it prepares for Saturday's Pacific 10 Conference opener against Washington State at the Coliseum.

"We know who the guy is and we trust it, but you still have to get through it," Coach Pete Carroll said of Turner, who missed the opener against Idaho because of a pinched nerve in his shoulder.

Turner's struggles against the Cornhuskers were reminiscent of the Trojans' last trip to the Midwest for a game against an opponent other than Notre Dame.

In 2002, the Trojans journeyed in September to Kansas State. Then-freshman Mike Williams dropped several passes that proved costly in a 27-20 defeat.

Williams rebounded with four receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns the following week in the Pac-10 opener against Oregon State and went on to become the most dominant receiver of the Carroll era. Williams regarded the Kansas State flop as a turning point in his career.

"I never saw that game but [Williams] told me about it a few years ago," Turner said.

Former All-American Dwayne Jarrett also had an embarrassing performance on his resume. Slowed by a training camp thigh injury, he was manhandled in last season's opener by Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston -- and then was called out publicly by former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as the Trojans prepared for a home game against Nebraska.

Jarrett responded with 11 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns.

If new receivers coach John Morton criticized Turner he kept it private, but Carroll said Turner's problems might have been avoided if the coaching staff had tested his fitness more during practice.

Turner, who had been injured in a violent practice collision with linebacker Rey Maualuga, wore a yellow jersey in workouts last week to discourage contact.

"Maybe we need to bang him around a little more to get him ready before he gets out there," Carroll said, adding, "Maybe not call on him as quite as much in critical situations to let him get his feet on the ground and get comfortable and do the stuff he's capable of."

Carroll said he has talked to Turner about the Nebraska debacle and would speak with him again before Saturday's game.

Booty said he has played with Turner too long to worry about him.

"I've seen him lay out, get smoked, make diving catches, jump in the air with guys to make catches," Booty said, "so that's not in the back of my mind at all. I know what's he's capable of."

USC's passing game is averaging a modest 5.5 yards a pass play and 8.5 yards per completion compared to the 6.1 and 10.5 averages of opponents. Trojans receivers spent extra time after practice on Monday and Tuesday catching balls fired out of a pitching machine.

Receiver David Ausberry, a redshirt freshman, said Turner took the aftermath of the Nebraska performance in stride.

"He's a tough dude," Ausberry said. "It's easy to go up to him and say something like, 'My little brother could have caught that ball.' You can do that when you win the game."

Turner vowed to be ready for Washington State.

"You have to have a short term memory," he said. "It's behind you and there's nothing you can do about it.

"It's a whole new week."

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

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