Jarrett, a 6'5", 195-pound freshman with a 40inch vertical leap and game-breaking talent, has been called upon by Carroll to fill Williams's shoes. The freshman from New Brunswick, N.J., went into the Cal game with 13 catches, including two for touchdowns, but he'd had difficulty hanging on to the ball. Even when Jarrett had been at his most stone-handed, however, Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart had always come back to him. "You get frustrated here and there when receivers miss a pass," says Leinart, "but they've got to know I have confidence in them."
That patience paid off on Saturday, as Jarrett caught four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown and dropped not a single ball. He was also responsible for the game's most spectacular play, soaring to snare a pass when USC went for it on fourth-and-11 from the Cal 32-yard line in the first quarter. Low-bridged at the apex of his leap, Jarrett somersaulted in midair and hung on to the ball despite a violent landing. That circus catch set up the Trojans' first touchdown.
"This was the first time you could see what Dwayne can do," said Carroll, unable to contain his excitement in his office 45 minutes after the game. "It was exactly like what Mike Williams used to do here."
Saturday also marked the return to the lineup of Byrd, who, despite catching 10 passes against the first-string defense in practice, was shut out by Cal. In keeping with the nothing-comes-easy ethos of these '04 Trojans, Byrd's return and Jarrett's arrival was offset by the departure of Steve Smith, Leinart's goto receiver. The sophomore left the Coliseum on crutches, having fractured his left fibula after a catch across the middle in the third quarter. He's likely to be out for six weeks. Smith was replaced by senior Jason Mitchell, a reserve best known for his prowess as a downfield blocker. Carroll called the loss of Smith "huge."
His absence contributed to the good-but-not-great showing by Leinart, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 164 yards. He threw two TDs and an interception and spent more time than usual on his back. While Leinart blamed himself for the four sacks USC gave up, the truth is, he's throwing behind a young line to inexperienced receivers who can't always get open.
Leinart suffered in comparison with Rodgers, as any QB in the country would have on Saturday. The Cal junior finished a sterling 29 of 34 for one touchdown and no picks. Even his first incompletion, which came with 8:57 left in the game, impressed: Rather than shoehorn a pass to Manderino at the left sideline hoping to keep his streak alive, Rodgers safely threw the ball away.
Rodgers presented a puzzle for Carroll, who serves as his own defensive coordinator. If the Trojans blitzed, Rodgers would make them pay, as he had a year ago during the Bears' 34--31 triple-overtime win over USC, which cost the Trojans a chance at an undisputed national championship. When Carroll sent only four rushers, Rodgers had the time, and the pinpoint accuracy, to find the underneath receiver.
"They gave us the look we saw on film all week," said Rodgers afterward. "We knew we could exploit 'em underneath."
That style--taking the short stuff--won't work against USC unless a quarterback is "extraordinarily efficient," Carroll pointed out. "But this guy was friggin' lights out."
Rodgers did not deny that he had looked forward to sharing the stage with the more ballyhooed Leinart. The appearance of those two, and other, NFL prospects lured more than a dozen pro scouts to the Coliseum. "No question, both guys have NFL futures," said one NFC scout of the quarterbacks. "Aaron's probably a little more mobile than Leinart, and he's got a purer NFL arm. He's got a great command of his ball. He throws with accuracy, throws with touch and he's got arm strength. Those are the three components you need."