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ROSE BOWL : TROJANS CAN’T AFFORD TO LEAVE BIG PLAYS TO KEITH BYARS IN THE GRANDDADDY OF THEM ALL

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Times Staff Writer

USC made it to today’s Rose Bowl game against Ohio State with a conservative, ball-control type of offense and a strong defense.

The Trojans aren’t a big-play, catchup team, according to Coach Ted Tollner, who has structured his offense to suit his personnel.

USC’s style was good enough to win seven straight Pacific 10 games, including a 16-7 victory over Washington that clinched the Rose Bowl bid a week before the end of the conference season.

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But Washington State Coach Jim Walden says USC can’t beat Ohio State in the 71st Rose Bowl with the Trojans’ present offensive philosophy. He suggests that the Trojans should throw caution to the wind and just throw, while admitting that it’s easy for him to say since he’s not involved.

Walden’s views are pertinent because his Cougars were the only common opponent for Ohio State and USC during the season. The Buckeyes routed WSU, 44-0, Sept. 15 at Columbus, Ohio. USC held on to beat Washington State, 29-27, Oct. 6 at Pullman, Wash.

The Trojans (8-3) are coming into today’s game--kickoff 2 p.m.--trying to regain the momentum--and respect--they had before losing season-ending games to UCLA and Notre Dame. Ohio State (9-2) wrapped up the Big Ten championship by beating Michigan, 21-6, Nov. 17.

“My personal feeling is that USC is not going to beat Ohio State by sitting on the ball and being conservative,” Walden said. “So I say, let it fly, get it going, turn it loose. That’s what I’d do, but I’m half nuts anyway. Maybe they feel they can’t win if they do that.”

USC is a four-point underdog, and Tollner says that for his team to win, it must (1) prevent All-American tailback Keith Byars from breaking away on long runs, (2) not turn the ball over on the Trojans’ side of the field, and (3) get a draw, at least, in the kicking game.

Byars, 6-2 and 236, the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, is regarded as the best running back in the country. He led the nation in rushing, averaging 150.5 yards a game, and scoring 24 touchdowns.

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Over the years, USC has been winning games with Heisman Trophy-winning tailbacks and other prominent running backs. Now, curiously, the Trojans must try to contain a back who fits into their own mold.

“Byars could be the difference in the ball game,” Walden said. “He’s big and he can run away from you. USC will find it difficult to judge him because he has deceiving speed. Our players took a projected angle on him, and he ran right by them.

“He has a gear that you don’t see until he needs it. You don’t expect that type of explosion from a big guy. You think he’s running full bore all the time. Then, when we caught up with him, we were cautious, and he ran right over us. He could answer USC’s defensive challenge because he is such a strong dude.”

USC is ranked eighth nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 103.5 yards per game. But Walden says that Byars can’t be contained for an entire game.

“I feel that Byars will beat USC’s defense,” Walden said. “Ohio State has a tremendous offensive line . . . they’re very physical up front. I don’t care how good your defense is, he’ll wear you out, keep the pressure on you.

“If there is ever a team that understands what a fortress running back can do, it’s USC. If your team knows that, then respect it. Just because he’s in another uniform, don’t get the idea that others can’t do it to you.”

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Byars has been likened to the late Ricky Bell, who as a 6-2, 220-pound tailback, used to run over people for USC in the mid-70s. Bell, who died Nov. 28, will be remembered today. USC’s players will wear a replica of his numeral, 42, on their helmets.

USC would like to keep Byars off the field with ball-control drives, but Walden says that Ohio State’s defense, which was inconsistent earlier in the season, is decent enough.

“I think USC’s linebackers (Jack Del Rio, Duane Bickett, Neil Hope and Keith Biggers) are better than Ohio State’s linebackers as a group,” Walden said. “But USC’s other seven on defense may not be any better than Ohio State’s seven, so it’s a push.

“USC has to play its best defensive game of the year and open up more on offense because if you get into a physical contest with Ohio State, I think they’re a little stronger on both sides of the ball than USC is.”

USC has scored only one touchdown in each of its last three games. One touchdown (and three field goals by Steve Jordan) beat Washington, but it wasn’t enough against UCLA or Notre Dame. The difference, as Tollner points out, is that USC had only one turnover against the Huskies and a total of 11 against the Bruins and Irish.

“If USC doesn’t score between 17 and 26 points, they’ll get beat,” Walden said. “Those could be famous last words, and I could be wrong, but that’s the way I feel.”

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Walden was reminded that, perhaps, USC isn’t capable of opening up its offense as he suggests. Quarterback Tim Green, who replaced injured Sean Salisbury earlier in the season, has been programmed to throw safe, medium-range passes while mixing in the running of tailbacks Fred Crutcher or Ryan Knight.

“You generally say, ‘You dance with who brung you,’ ” Walden said. “But, in USC’s case, you could say they got here by this or that, but if they turn the ball over a couple of times--and they’ve been doing that lately--they can’t play smack-it-out football.

“So why not have some fun. Put the ball up. Run some misdirection screens. Then go back to heavy pounding. That’s what I’d do, but it’s damn easy for me to tell them what to do. Still, I say, hey, USC has been getting beat (lately) with what it has been doing, so why not try something else.”

Walden, however, warns Ohio State, as Buckeye Coach Earle Bruce has been warning his team, to expect a different USC team than the one that was unimpressive in losing to UCLA and Notre Dame.

“I think you’ll see a much more inspired USC team,” Walden said. “Now they have something to play for. There is only so much emotion you can muster, and I’d hate to be Ted Tollner trying to motivate his players after they’d accomplished what they set out to do (win the Pac-10 championship).

“But if USC beats Ohio State, 16-7, I’d be the most shocked dude in America.”

Rose Bowl Notes This will not only be the rubber Rose Bowl match between USC and Ohio State--each team has won three games--but also the tiebreaker in the overall Pacific 10-Big 10 series that began in 1947. It’s even now at 19-19. The Big Ten won 12 of the first 13 games played; the Pac-10 has won 13 of the past 15. . . . WSU Coach Jim Walden says that Ohio State quarterback Mike Tomczak (a 58.5% passer for 1,662 yards and 9 touchdowns) complements tailback Keith Byars. “He would be a good quarterback for us,” Walden said. “He’s got mobility, a good throwing arm and lots of spunk.” . . . Walden said that WSU’s 44-0 loss to Ohio State was a bit misleading in the sense that his team moved the ball but had costly turnovers. . . . USC is the only Pac-10 team with a winning record (17-6) in the Rose Bowl. All of the other conference teams are .500 or below. USC has made the most appearances in the Rose Bowl, while Ohio State is here for the 12th time, the most by a visiting team. The Buckeyes are 5-6 overall in the Rose Bowl.

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Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce’s record for his first six seasons, 56-15, is better than any of his predecessors, including the legendary Woody Hayes. But he’s booed at home. “We sometimes consider an Ohio State home game as an away game,” Bruce said. “It’s a sad approach when the home team is behind and they boo. It’s a time to cheer. But I don’t think they’re booing the team.” . . . Ohio State is the only Big Ten team to hold an all-time advantage over USC, 9-8-1. The Trojans are 48-18-2 against the conference. . . . The Buckeyes have lost only 8 fumbles this season. USC has lost 23. In total turnovers, it’s 18 for Ohio State, 34 for USC.

Ohio State is ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the UPI and Associated Press polls. USC is 14th and 18th. . . . Byars is OSU’s second-leading receiver with 37 catches for 453 yards behind flanker Mike Lanese, 38 for 585. . . . Split end Hank Norman leads USC with 38 for 623 yards. . . . Only four teams have compiled more than 300 yards in total offense in a game against USC this season, and only one runner--UCLA’s Gaston Green--has rushed for more than 100 yards. Byars has had 10 100-yard (or more) games this season. . . . Ohio State is averaging 436.6 yards in total offense and 34 points a game.

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