USC’s Ricky Ervins, Rodney Peete and Erik Affholter supplied more offense than Arizona could handle Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.
On a balmy night in the desert, the Trojans simply overpowered the Wildcats in the second half, winning, 38-15, before a crowd of 52,314.
USC Coach Larry Smith’s homecoming had a bitter ending for Arizona fans, who booed the former Wildcat coach as he came onto the field with his team.
Signs such as, “No Love for Larry,” were prevalent in the stands.
However, this didn’t prove to be a distraction for his team. The Trojans led at halftime, 12-7, but a relentless running game and Peete’s accurate passing enabled Smith’s team to dominate in the second half.
Peete completed 20 of 27 passes for 219 yards and didn’t throw an interception, while Affholter made 3 touchdown catches to tie a school record.
Ervins, a stocky 5-foot 8-inch, 190-pound running back, gained a career-high 135 yards in 26 carries.
He was used extensively because Aaron Emanuel was unavailable due to an ankle injury. So it was up to Ervins and another reserve, fullback Jeff Brown, to provide much of the ground game.
Brown gained a career-high 56 yards in 12 carries. Leroy Holt, the regular fullback, has been bothered by injuries and played only in spots, as did tailback Steven Webster.
By winning, the third-ranked Trojans remained unbeaten with a 4-0 overall record. They are 2-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference. Arizona dropped to 3-2 and 1-1.
It was a strange game in the sense that USC couldn’t convert many of its extra points. Placekicker Quin Rodriguez suffered a hip injury while warming up and spent most of the night on the bench.
The Trojans expanded their lead to 18-7 in the third quarter on a relentless, ground-oriented drive that ended when Peete threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Affholter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ron Dale’s kick took a high bounce, and USC linebacker Junior Seau recovered at the Arizona 17-yard line before the Wildcats could lay a hand on it.
Tailback Scott Lockwood scored on a 2-yard run on an option play as USC boosted its lead to 24-7. Affholter, who was recruited as a placekicker, missed the extra point.
Following an errant pitchout by Arizona quarterback Bobby Watters, USC scored again on an 11-yard pass from Peete to Affholter early in the fourth quarter.
Arizona, ineffective offensively most of the second half, closed within 31-15 on fullback Alonzo Washington’s 45-yard touchdown run through the middle of the USC defense.
Then, the Trojans went on their most impressive drive of the season. It was a 98-yard advance that consumed 7 minutes 11 seconds.
Ervins, who literally squirts for yardage, made the big runs on the drive. Once again, it was the Peete-to-Affholter connection that produced a touchdown, on a 9-yard scoring throw.
USC dominated the statistics with 451 yards in total offense to Arizona’s 325.
Arizona’s wishbone offense was effective at times but also mistake-prone. The Wildcats lost 2 fumbles, and Watters threw 2 interceptions.
Arizona Coach Dick Tomey was devastated, calling the game “a humiliating defeat,” adding: “We just have to pick up the pieces.”
As for Smith, he said he didn’t expect his team to win by such a margin.
“I had a feeling all week that our offense is really ready to break loose,” the Trojan coach said. “I felt if we won the game it would be because our offense took charge.”
As for his emotions in returning to the stadium where he coached for 7 years, Smith said: “When you hit the field for the first time, you feel something. But I got engrossed in the game and that’s what I came to do.”
Ervins wasn’t surprised that he filled in so commendably for Emanuel.
“When I’m in there, I expect to do well,” he said. “I just wanted to pick up where Aaron left off. Hopefully, I’ll be starting the next game, too.”
Peete, who was a high school star in Tucson, said it was a game he was looking forward to for a long time.
As for the emotion of Smith’s return, Peete said: “I don’t think Coach let it affect him, so it didn’t affect us. We wanted to keep the crowd out of the game--and the defense did a great job of doing that.”
Affholter had 9 catches (tying a career high) for 126 yards and was forced to become a placekicker again after Rodriguez was injured.
“Even though I sprained my ankle this week, I thought I did OK,” he said. “As for the touchdowns, Rodney made it happen by his scrambling. I just looked for an open spot, and he found me.”
The Trojans were fortunate to lead, 12-7, at halftime as Arizona placekicker Gary Coston missed field-goal attempts of 41 and 35 yards.
USC scored on drives of 63 and 80 yards, but Rodriguez missed the extra point after the first touchdown, and Peete’s pass was incomplete on a 2-point try after the second touchdown.
Arizona culminated a 77-yard drive late in the first quarter when wide receiver Derek Hill made a leaping catch of Watters’ 14-yard pass for a touchdown, barely staying inbounds.
A 36-yard pass from Peete to Affholter set up USC’s first touchdown, a 3-yard run by Ervins in the first quarter.
Earlier, Arizona drove to the USC 32-yard line, where Watters was hit by linebacker Craig Hartsuyker while pitching out, with linebacker Scott Ross recovering for USC.
However, the Wildcats were on the move again late in the first quarter.
Watters was executing the option with more deception than Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway was able to do against USC last week.
On the 77-yard drive, Watters fooled Hartsuyker and dashed 32 yards on a keeper on first down at the USC 45-yard line.
Later, on third and 1 at the USC 25-yard line, Watters kept the ball again, spurting to the USC 15.
On second down, his pass found Hill in the end zone with USC cornerback Chris Hale trying to out-leap the wide receiver for the ball and failing.
Trailing, 7-6, Peete was sharp on his passes on the 80-yard drive. He completed 6 of 7 for 55 yards. As usual, Affholter was his primary target.
Peete kept the drive going with a 13-yard pass to Affholter on second and 11 from the USC 46-yard line. Ervins was also an effective runner on the advance.
Holt got the touchdown from the 1-yard line.
Early in the second quarter, USC had an opportunity to expand its 12-7 lead. Wide receiver Gary Wellman got behind the Arizona defense, but Peete overthrew the wide receiver at the Wildcat 35-yard line.
Peete completed 9 of 14 passes for 113 yards in the first half and didn’t throw an interception. However, he was sacked 3 times, fumbling once at the USC 23-yard line when blind-sided.
Coston then missed the first of those two field-goal attempts.
The return of Larry Smith to Tucson is apparently the biggest news event of the week here. A front-page headline in the Tucson Citizen Saturday proclaimed: “Smith Faces 50,000 Wildcat Fans.” If so, it’s a bit one-sided. A local radio station has repeatedly broadcast a song entitled, “Get Even, Beat Larry.” It’s a 3-minute parody of singer Bobby McFerrin’s hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The lyrics: “We thought you were a gutsy guy, but you left without saying goodby. In every job there is some trouble. Why be loyal? Your paycheck’s double.”