- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The coach is more professorial than pyrotechnic, and not even good for a laugh the way, say, John McKay used to be. The tailback, in the line that brought us Garrett and Bell and White and Allen, is said to be more Oh, No than O.J., the kind of runner McKay or John Robinson would have said could turn a four-yard gain into a four-yard gain.
As for the quarterback, well, he's lefthanded, you see, and his throws can be described as picture passes only because they tend to hang. He thinks he can be 6'1" just by saying so for publication in the program, though he stands nose-to-Adam's apple with a 6-footer. Even his coaches think he's more mouth than marvel; he's even kept from the press before games because he's likely to say something that'll appear on the opposition's bulletin board. Still, he says things like the USC offense was easier to learn than the one he played in junior college because it "isn't as intricate."
And as the team won seven of its first eight games by playing tough D, the defense didn't get all that much respect. A recent compliment by a Los Angeles newspaper reporter brought the suggestion from a reader that the reporter should transfer to the food section of the paper so he could write about things he was "familiar" with—"turkeys," for example, and "chicken liver."
But don't be deceived, children. This is the Southern Cal football team, all right. And though it may still not be completely out of the doghouse after its days of NCAA probation and mediocrity (4-6-1 in 1983), it's going back to the Rose Bowl, heretofore its home away from home, for the first time in four years. And it's going there over the fallen body of previously unbeaten Washington, which had been the No. 1 team in the country for three weeks.
To be sure, the Trojans did it defensively, beating the Huskies at their own game. Swarming, stifling, grunt-and-groan defense, door-to-door and hand-to-hand. It was a game of painstaking drives to field position, of kickers and kick returners. But USC did it offensively, too, and that will take some telling because it may not have seemed that way. And if you didn't think the Trojans' win was spectacular—it wasn't—you have to admit it was impressive, because it was.
The superficial conclusion is that with a 16-7 victory last Saturday in the cool, crisp autumn air of the L.A. Coliseum, USC's cool, crisp second-year coach, Ted Tollner, Robinson's hand-picked successor and possessor of the kindliest tutorial demeanor this side of Fulton Sheen, established himself as the defensive superior—for at least a day—to that defensive genius, Washington's Don James. Tollner certainly has as good help as anyone could hope for. He has a dandy defensive coordinator named Artie Gigantino, who was diagramming ways to stop the Huskies even in the elevator going down from the Trojans' quarters at the Wilshire Hyatt on Saturday morning. Tollner also has a Lombardi Award nominee in linebacker Jack Del Rio, and another linebacker, Duane Bickett, who may be even better than Del Rio.
So it's hardly a surprise that this game followed precisely the lines it figured to follow: defenses that give rival coaches insomnia versus offenses that put fans to sleep. Voracious, offensive defenses versus nibbling, inoffensive offenses. How inoffensive are they? Well, Washington ran up three first downs and 109 yards in edging Oregon on Oct. 20. Rivals want to kick off to the Huskies. The USC attack, in turn, needed a Seeing Eye dog to find the end zone early in the season. It went eight straight quarters without a touchdown, and opposing coaches had maligned it as being composed mainly of chronic holders.
Defense carried Washington to its first 9-0 record in the 95 years the Huskies have fielded a football team and to the giddy edge of the university's first national championship in any sport. James, however, knew where the skeletons lay. Two nights before the game with USC, James and his wife, Carol, were on their way out of the Metropolitan Steak House in rain-swept downtown Seattle when a Husky fan, flushed with unabashed pride and unknown liquids, made the victory sign with his fingers and said, "Thirty to 17, coach!" James muttered to himself, "I'd take 17 right now, but I'd hate to have to get it."
He didn't get 17, of course, although it would have been just enough. And what usually happens when two immovable objects (the Husky and Trojan defenses) meet two resistable forces (the Trojan and Husky offenses) happened. Which is to say, not much. In the first half, there were only a pair of field goals by USC's Steve Jordan and a 38-yard touchdown drive by Washington after a pop-up by Trojan punter Troy Richardson that went only 33 yards. Until then, Richardson had led a charmed life. Twice Washington's Ron Milus failed to field his short, tumbling punts and let them bounce past him—once to the Husky 12, putting Washington in a hole to set up Jordan's first field goal, a 51-yarder, and then all the way to the one to set up Jordan's second three-pointer, a 47-yarder.
That, of course, is the way defensive games are won, and the way Washington had been winning all year. But it had also won because rival offenses had come un-glued, first from their confidence and then from the ball at the impact of attachments being made on their persons. It had been a matter of percussion, Tollner pointed out the day before the game. "They intimidate you with their hitting, especially in the secondary," he said. "We can't let that happen. We can't give them the turnovers they're used to."