This is the year of the big-gun quarterback in college football, a fact made clear to the Oklahoma Sooners by USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum Saturday. If you don't have a full-fledged rocket launcher under center this year, you belong in the Big Eight, or, horrors, the Big Ten. You don't mean a thing if you ain't got that fling.
There's no national championship in your immediate future, that's for sure, which Oklahoma learned as USC socked the Sooners 23-7. The UCLA Troy Aikmans already had rolled up Nebraska's rugs, Steve Walsh and the Miami Hurricanes had turned Florida State and Michigan into fairy tales, and the Gamecocks of Todd Ellis pecked Georgia's ground-bound Dawgs to death. Only the quarterback-elite teams are undefeated and likely to stay that way for a while. No, we're not forgetting Notre Dame, but just imagine if the Irish had Rodney Peete....
This is Year 2 in the era of the quarterback at USC. For season after season, the first USC plays from scrimmage in any game could have been mailed in—28 Toss and 22 Blast, the signatures of Tailback U. How times have changed. The Trojan fricassee of the Sooners began with a typical Peete blue plate special: two neat rollout jobs as Rockin' Rodney zipped a square out on the right for 14 yards to his favorite target, Erik Affholter (eight catches for 94 yards), then kept around left end for 11 more.
True, tailback Aaron Emanuel scored both of the Trojan touchdowns (Quin Rodriguez kicked three field goals and two PATs for the rest of USC's points)—on a five-yard run in the first quarter and a six-yard burst in the second—and he rushed for 46 yards in 10 carries before leaving the game at halftime with a sprained right ankle. But it was Peete's passing (16 of 34 for 198 yards, with seven third-down conversions) and quick feet (six rushes for 40 yards) that set the table for the tailback. The Trojans came out in a formation called A and B, a variation of its once-hallowed I, with bullnecked fullback Leroy Holt offset to the left or right. Call it the Hungry I.
"We put it in this week," said Peete. "It gets the fullback [blocking] on that defensive end earlier." Peete took advantage of the extra angle, marching USC to a 20-0 halftime lead. "It was easier than we thought it would be," Peete said. "But we missed things. It could've been much worse."
" Peete won the game by keeping the ball away from us," said the subdued Sooner coach, Barry Switzer, who knew he was asking for trouble when he came to town with a defense featuring five sophomores and a freshman. "You can't go undefeated every year," he said. "Even I know that. We fought like hell, but Peete's execution .and ball control took us out."
This is no passing phenomenon for the Trojans; when Peete leaves USC this spring, he won't be taking the position with him. The Trojans have one of the most sought-after high school quarterbacks in history in freshman Todd Marinovich, a lefthanded gun. And Marinovich is not even Peete's backup. That job belongs to Pat O'Hara, a sophomore who redshirted in 1986.
" Marinovich has just a great touch in the passing game," says coach Larry Smith. "He could well be our guy by next year, though it's going to be a battle." Smith would like Peete to take all the snaps and the glory this season so Marinovich can be redshirted retroactively and have four years left to break Peete's records. Make it four long years if you're not a USC aficionado.
Marinovich is apprentice to a player with character. Peete is a personable two-sport wonder, a major league prospect as a third baseman (.338, All—Pac-10) who turned down a reported $100,000 contract from the Oakland As to stay close to USC this summer. "The A's didn't mind me not playing," says Peete. "They said, 'Just sign, Rodney. You don't have to play, just sign so we don't lose your rights.' " Peete declined, citing his promise to his parents that he would graduate from USC on time. "Which do I prefer? Both," says Peete. "Third base is all throwing and reaction anyway." Sounds like an unspecified preference—or John Elway—from here.
With Peete at the controls, the Trojan offense has become richly varied, a balanced mix of running and passing. With 11:34 left in the Oklahoma game and USC leading comfortably, 20-7, the Trojans had a run-pass ratio of nearly 50-50, while Oklahoma was throwing the ball on fewer than one out of four plays. At the end, USC had kept the ball for almost 37 minutes, while Oklahoma had it for just over 23.