Exhibit A in the case of Time v. USC Mystique is the Troy Boys themselves. Take a look at the team. This is USC? It sure doesn't look like USC. Twice this fall the Trojans have pitched the ball to a flanker, who has turned and thrown it for a touchdown pass. A flea-flicker at USC? Frank Gifford just blanched.
The Trojans haven't had a first-rate tailback since Marcus Allen, and nobody seems ready to succeed, despite the fact that in junior Ryan Knight and sophomore Aaron Emanuel USC has the most dearly sought schoolboy runners from 1984 and '85. Knight, who lost the starting job to Emanuel last week, can't seem to hit a hole without doing an Arthur Murray routine first. Emanuel shows promise, but he's erratic. Against Oregon he ran for 144 yards, and he had a 25-yard TD run in which nine Ducks took a quack at him. On Saturday, however, he broke loose on a 12-yard run only to fumble the ball away, and he finished with just 63 yards.
When was the last time USC had a quarterback with more than a good hand-off? Meet Rodney Peete, second cousin to golfer Calvin Peete and a guy who either hits the pin or knocks it in the lake. Typically, on Saturday Peete completed 16 of 25 passes for 253 yards but threw two interceptions and fumbled twice.
Finally, take a look at the Trojans' Fisher-Price defensive line. It features two freshmen (Tim Ryan is the first pure freshman to start the first game of a season at USC since 1978) and a sophomore. Somehow, the defensive line hung in there until Saturday, when Walden's staff rigged up a scheme to flatten it. Pretending to start the option wide, Cougar quarterback Ed Blount would instead reverse-pivot and hand the ball back to Kerry (164 yards) Porter, who used the youngsters as welcome mats. "We didn't stop the dive," said USC defensive coordinator Artie Gigantino. "And when you don't stop the dive against an option team, it's all over."
"I'm sick," said Tollner. "We got our butts kicked." And then some. The Cougars held the ball twice as long as the Trojans. They outgained USC on the ground by better than 4 to 1. "Your wife, my wife, anybody's wife could tell you what happened today," said Gigantino. "We got stomped."
The Trojans' ability to unstomp themselves could hold USC football's—and Tollner's—fate. In a conference with six teams in SI's Top 20 last week and five this week, wins are harder to come by than a midnight cab in Dubuque. Even if Tollner can win most of his remaining games, if the victories don't include the scalps of UCLA or Notre Dame (his combined record against them is 1-5), there'll be howling in the hills.
"I think everybody was waiting for him to lose," says senior Tim McDonald, an All-America safety. "But we're not going to give in. What all this has done is bring us closer together. We all know the situation he's in, but we've got it figured out. We're going to win so many games that the AD will have to keep him."
That would be what's known as enjoying the in-your-face experience.