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ROSE BOWL: MICHIGAN 22, USC 14 : PEETE AT A LOSS : Quarterback Can’t Find Words to Explain Trojans’ Demise in Second Half

Times Staff Writer

USC Coach Larry Smith said that he was angry--"damned angry"--because of the way his team played, or didn’t play, Monday in the second half of the 22-14 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan.

USC quarterback Rodney Peete said that he could understand his coach’s feelings.

But that didn’t necessarily mean that Peete shared them. He said that he was more sad than angry. Sad and confused.

It was the fourth bowl game that the Trojans have played since Peete, a senior, joined them in 1985, and their fourth loss. He was the starting quarterback in consecutive Rose Bowl losses, the first time that USC has lost two straight in a game that it has dominated through the years.

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USC again appeared to be the better team in the first half Monday, leading, 14-3, after Peete’s second-quarter touchdown runs of 1 and 4 yards.

His second touchdown came on a third-down option keeper, and while that was an important play, more impressive on that 67-yard, 12-play drive was his scramble for 23 yards to the Michigan 9.

Perhaps it was such plays, when Peete appeared as if he could elude the Wolverines all day, that gave the Trojans a false sense of security and, Smith indicated, cost them the game. In the second half, the Wolverines caught Peete. And they caught and past the Trojans.

Afterward, Peete stood on a chair outside the locker room and tried to talk over the drums of the Michigan band. For once, someone rescued him, leading him into an interview tent, where he was provided with a microphone.

"(Coach) should be mad because we didn’t come out to play in the second half,” Peete said. “Michigan came out to play, and we didn’t.

“That’s uncharacteristic of us. All year, we’ve been a second-half football team. We pound on teams for three quarters, and then, in the fourth quarter, the game is ours. Today, we forgot to come out and play in the second half.”

Smith didn’t blame Peete, who passed for 158 yards (15 completions in 21 attempts with 2 interceptions) and rushed for 42.

“Rodney played pretty good, but I don’t think he got a whole lot of help from some other people today,” Smith said.

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Smith pointed the finger at Peete’s protection, which, in this case, was hardly any protection at all.

Take this sequence for example: After Michigan took a 15-14 lead with a touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, USC, needing to establish its offense to regain momentum, began its next possession on its own 26.

On first down, Peete was sacked for a 6-yard loss. On second down, he scrambled for a 5-yard gain. On third down, he was sandwiched between a couple of Michigan defenders while attempting to pass, and fumbled.

“They were really on top of Rodney quickly,” USC split end Erik Affholter said. “We have a lot of passes where we need to take our time. When he’s rushed out of the pocket, the whole play breaks down. We have to improvise.”

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Unlike Smith, Affholter didn’t blame USC’s blockers.

“Give credit to Michigan’s defensive line,” he said.

Peete also praised the Wolverines, putting them in the same class with Notre Dame, Miami and UCLA as one of college football’s best teams this season. But he couldn’t help but believe that the Trojans contributed greatly to their own downfall.

“As an offensive team, we came out flat in the second half,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

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The Trojans’ first 4 possessions in the second half yielded 2 lost fumbles, 2 punts and no first downs. Their one promising drive, midway through the fourth quarter, ended with a missed field goal from 47 yards. Their final possession, a desperation effort after they had fallen 8 points behind, ended in an interception.

Peete took responsibility for the final mistake. Needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie, the Trojans drove from their own 14 to the Michigan 42 with less than a minute remaining, when Peete’s pass on first and 25 was intercepted by linebacker John Milligan.

“I just didn’t get the ball high enough,” Peete said. “The guy (Milligan) made a good play.

“I thought that we were going to put the ball in the end zone, get the 2-point conversion, recover the onside kick and kick a field goal to win. I was positive all the way.”

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But it wasn’t to be for the Trojans, who lost last year’s Rose Bowl game to Michigan State.

“This is tough,” Peete said. “Bowl games are what you play for. In the Pac-10, you play to go to the Rose Bowl and win the Rose Bowl. We lost, basically, to the state of Michigan the last 2 years. That’s something we’re going to have to live with for a long time.

“That’s not like USC. We usually win the Rose Bowl.”

If USC wins next year, it will be without Peete. Next on his schedule are the college baseball season and the National Football League draft. Unless he’s another Bo Jackson, Peete will have to choose his professional sport soon. But he didn’t feel like thinking about it after Monday’s game.

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“It’s hard to say what I’ll do right now,” he said. “This game is still on my mind. I’m going to Hawaii tomorrow (Tuesday) for the Hula Bowl. I hope that relieves some of the pain.”


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