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A TROJAN TRADITION : USC Has Always Had Its Front Men, but This Time the Offensive Line Is Doing It Without Any Big Names

Times Staff Writer

USC has had more than its share of outstanding offensive linemen, some of whom have been recognized nationally.

There have been 23 first-team All-American USC offensive linemen since 1964, and 16 first-round National Football League draft choices since 1968.

In the 1980s, USC has had a first-team All-American offensive lineman every year except 1984.

But at the start of this season, the Trojans didn’t have any All-American prospects among the linemen. In fact, there was precious little experience up front.

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It could have been called a no-name unit.

Moreover, USC Coach Larry Smith said he was more concerned about the offensive line than any other area of his team.

USC had three returning starters--tackles Brent Parkinson and John Guerrero and guard Mark Tucker. But Parkinson, a junior, was not been available for spring practice because of knee surgery and played for the first time this season Saturday night in the Trojans’ 38-15 victory over Arizona.

Guerrero, a senior who was restricted by knee injuries, hadn’t become a starter until early last year. Tucker, a redshirt sophomore, joined Guerrero on the first unit at the same time.

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So there was a major experience gap.

Now, 4 games into the season, the offensive line has performed, well beyond expectations. Obviously, somebody is blocking, since USC has a balanced offense with an average of 217.3 yards rushing and 219.3 yards passing a game.

“We’ve made good progress,” said John Matsko, the Trojans’ offensive line coach. “We’ve gone beyond concern to the part where we have to be ready to play every week. The guys have accepted the challenge that we have to continue to improve and grow.”

But unless Guerrero, a 320-pound tackle who sometimes buries defensive players, gets recognized, there probably won’t be an All-American in this edition of the USC offensive line.

Tucker, on his way to becoming a 4-year starter, is possibly a future All-American.

Tucker is aware that offensive linemen must derive satisfaction from the statistics compiled by quarterback Rodney Peete and the running backs.

That satisfaction was realized Saturday night against Arizona in Tucson, where the Trojans went on a game-ending, 98-yard touchdown drive that consumed 7 minutes 11 seconds.

“We only had 64 yards rushing at halftime, so everybody was saying, ‘We have to run the football,’ ” Tucker said.

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The Trojans, with a double tight-end alignment, gained 168 yards on the ground in the second half. For the game, USC was in control of the ball for 42 minutes to Arizona’s 18.

“Nobody likes to practice, but practices should be hard--and we practice hard,” Tucker said. “Then, when you get into a game, it seems easier.”

Tucker didn’t play organized football until he was a sophomore at Banning High School in Wilmington in 1983.

“It was just sandlot football up until then,” he said. “When I got to high school I wanted to be something more than just a student and I wanted to play for the best.”

So Tucker, who lived in the Washington High School district in south central Los Angeles, transferred to Banning.

There, his teammates included USC fullback Leroy Holt and Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway. A two-time All-City selection, Tucker was the captain of Banning’s City championship team in 1985.

He said that he got a scholarship offer from Oklahoma and visited the campus there but added that he always intended to enroll at USC.

Tucker lines up at strongside guard. Michael Moody, a redshirt freshmen, and Derrell (Turk) Marshall, a junior college transfer, are the alternating strongside tackles. Neither of them had played for USC until this season.

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Brad Leggett, a junior and a converted guard, is the starting center. His father is Earl Leggett, an assistant coach with the Raiders.

Guerrero is a fixture at weakside tackle, and Dan Barnes, a junior, has replaced injured Mark Sager at weakside guard. Sager had moved in there earlier, replacing the injured Parkinson.

Matsko’s evaluation of his linemen:

--Guerrero, 6 feet 2 inches, 320 pounds--"John is the leader of the offensive line. He really has improved on his pass protection and sets the tempo at practice. The way John goes is the way, basically, our practices go. He’s getting better and better.”

--Barnes, 6-4, 265--"I kept telling Dan all fall that he could be the starter, but he didn’t believe me until he got an opportunity to start. Now it will be hard for someone to replace him. He’s playing very consistently. Dan had a broken foot for 3 days last spring and he didn’t even know it.

--Leggett, 6-5, 260--"He’s playing the way he’s supposed to play. He’s really maturing and makes all the calls on the offensive line. He has overcome a lot of adversity with a foot injury. Of all the guys, we’re most pleased with his progress.”

--Tucker, 6-3, 260--"A very dedicated, consistent player. I think he and Leggett should be considered for All-Pac-10 and Guerrero should be considered for All-American if they continue to improve.”

Moody, 6-7, 283, and Marshall, 6-4, 305--"There’s real competition at that position. They’re both good blockers, despite their inexperience.”

Trojan Notes

USC has a 7-0 record at the Coliseum since Larry Smith became coach. . . . Oregon, USC’s opponent here Saturday, is 4-0 so far this season, its best start since 1984. . . . The Trojans played 3 of their first 4 games on the road but will be home for 3 of the next 4. . . . Split end Erik Affholter is a ball-control receiver. Of his team-high 27 catches, 22 have resulted in first downs, including 9 on third-down passes. . . . USC strong safety Cleveland Colter had a team-high 16 tackles against Arizona, and free safety Mark Carrier had 10 tackles and intercepted a pass. . . . USC cornerback Chris Hale has 4 interceptions and ranks second nationally.


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