Turning 50 in Style : USC

SportsEducationFootballBasketballUSCUSC TrojansUniversity of Notre Dame

SEATTLE -- There was nothing stunning about it.

Nothing dramatic or one-for-the-ages special.

And that suited USC just fine.

A week after their draining last-second win over longtime rival Notre Dame, the top-ranked Trojans took a page from the last few seasons and defeated Washington, 51-24, Saturday before 64,096 at Husky Stadium.

Using an approach that harkened to the years under former offensive coordinator Norm Chow, quarterback Matt Leinart overcame recent struggles and threw four touchdown passes -- three to split end Dwayne Jarrett -- as the Trojans extended their winning streak to 29 games and remained on track for a berth in the bowl championship series title game and a shot at a third straight national championship.

Reggie Bush returned a punt for a touchdown and rushed for another as USC improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference.

"We got back to basics," said Leinart, who became the Pac-10's all-time leader in touchdown passes with 87.

Going into Saturday's game, Leinart had not thrown a touchdown pass in two of the previous three games. He had acknowledged this week that the burden of expectations and hype was affecting his play.

After completing 20 of 26 passes for 201 yards without an interception in three quarters Saturday, he said Trojan routs of Hawaii and Arkansas in the first two games this season moved the offense away from concepts that had worked in the past.

"In a way we got away from the stuff that got us here in the first place the last couple years," he said.

Assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian said Washington's pass defense, which was ranked ninth in the conference, gave the Trojans opportunities to exploit shorter routes. Leinart's longest completion was 26 yards.

"They were willing all year to give stuff up underneath and we tried to take advantage of it," Sarkisian said.

USC players and coaches had spent the week before the game discouraging discussion of the Trojans' epic 34-31 victory over Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind.

The focus, Coach Pete Carroll said, would be on playing better and eliminating mistakes. The Trojans gave up a 92-yard return on the opening kickoff Saturday and a meaningless touchdown on an interception return in the fourth quarter, but otherwise kept mistakes to a minimum.

"We wanted to respond to the challenge of playing our style with our philosophy regardless of where, who, when and that kind of stuff -- and we did that," Carroll said.

USC produced only 390 yards against Washington -- its lowest output in 15 games, since last year's game against California -- but Leinart and his teammates seemed overjoyed by the fashion in which they were accumulated.

"Whenever we spread the ball out, it just makes us a lot less predictable," said tight end Dominique Byrd, who caught three passes for 31 yards.

Jarrett caught touchdown passes of 24, seven and seven yards, his last a one-handed grab in the third quarter that evoked images of former All-American Mike Williams.

"This just shows how great we can be when we're focused and come to work," Jarrett said.

They trailed by three points late in the first quarter before taking advantage of two Washington fumbles en route to scoring 27 unanswered points in about seven minutes.

"We just wanted to come out focused, dominate this team and make a statement," said Bush, whose spectacular 84-yard punt return put USC ahead by 17 early in the second quarter.

USC began to assert itself late in the first quarter after Washington had taken a 10-7 lead.

Safety Darnell Bing, who took injured Desmond Reed's spot on the kick-return unit, returned the first kick of his career 68 yards to the Washington 24.

On the next play, Leinart and Jarrett connected for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead with 1:09 left in the first quarter.

On the next possession, Husky quarterback Isaiah Stanback's pass behind the line of scrimmage went off Cody Ellis' hands and was recovered by Justin Wyatt. After Leinart passed 24 yards to Jarrett, Bush scored from six yards for a 20-10 lead.

Washington went three and out, and Bush fielded Sean Douglas' 54-yard kick at the Trojan 16. Bush ran into a mass of players in the middle of the field, then broke free along the right sideline and sprinted to the end zone for his first touchdown on a punt return this season.

"I've been waiting for a while to break a punt return," said Bush, who accumulated 185 all-purpose yards. "The punt-return team provided great blocks for me. All I had to do was make a couple people miss and it was off to the races from there."

On the next possession, Stanback fumbled while trying a handoff and Trojan end Frostee Rucker recovered the ball to set up Leinart's seven-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett for a 34-10 lead 9:08 before halftime.

"You can't do that against guys like this, especially with that offense," said Stanback, who passed for 201 yards and a touchdown but was sacked four times.

Washington (1-6, 0-4) pulled to within 17 points 2:47 before halftime on a one-yard sneak by Stanback, but USC freshman Brian Cushing blocked a punt to set up Mario Danelo's 31-yard field goal that pushed the margin to 20 points at the break.

Leinart called it a day with just over three minutes left in the third quarter after Jarrett's one-handed touchdown catch over Roy Lewis in the right corner of the end zone for a 44-17 lead.

Leinart, who seemed in a daze after scoring the game-winning touchdown against Notre Dame, was relaxed and cheerful after Saturday's game, the last of four road games in five weeks.

"I just feel a lot better," he said. "The confidence is back."

*

Knowing the score

USC's Matt Leinart has thrown more touchdown passes than any other Pacific 10 Conference quarterback:

Quarterback School Years TDs

Matt Leinart USC 2002-2005 87

Andrew Walter Arizona State 2001-2004 85

Derek Anderson Oregon State 2001-2004 79

John Elway Stanford 1979-1982 77

Steve Stenstrom Stanford 1991-1994 75

Carson Palmer USC 1998-2002 72

Source: Pac 10

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