Trojans Face Familiar Face in First Game
Two years in Memphis and Chuck Stobart still hasn’t visited Graceland, home of the late king of rock ‘n’ roll and the city’s most famous landmark.
“And I’m really a big Elvis fan,” the Memphis State football coach said. “I’ve been invited. It’s just a matter of getting time.”
He hasn’t had much.
A former USC assistant, Stobart hardly has had a chance to catch his breath since taking the Memphis State job only five weeks before his players reported for the start of the 1989 season.
Encumbered by an NCAA probation that was preceded by the forced resignation of former coach Charlie Bailey, who admitted to violating NCAA rules, the Tigers fell to 2-9 in Stobart’s first season after winning six of 11 games in Bailey’s last.
Memphis State improved to 4-6-1 last season but was torched by Florida State in its final game, 35-3.
And now that the sanctions have been lifted, although they will remain on probation for another year, the Tigers are up against USC today at the Coliseum.
“It has not been easy,” said Stobart, whose leading receiver the last two seasons, Russell Copeland, was suspended for a year by the school’s Student Judicial Council after he was involved in an on-campus fight.
Still, Stobart said, things are looking up for Memphis State. Last season, the Tigers lost four games by a touchdown or less.
“We are definitely an improved football team,” he said. “Whether or not we’ll show it on the field, because of the schedule we’ve got, I don’t know. But we are definitely a better team as far as strength, speed and the number of players that can (contribute).”
The Tigers are thin in both lines--three defensive lineman, all part-time starters last season, were kicked off the team this summer--and are “still shy of the real top skill players at certain positions,” Stobart said.
Senior quarterback Keith Benton led the Tigers in passing and rushing last season, accumulating 1,877 yards to establish a school total-offense record.
“If we made anything happen, he was the guy who made it happen,” Stobart said. “Now, we’re trying to find some ways to take some of the burden off him.”
The loss of Copeland, whose 33 receptions went for an average of 20.7 yards, didn’t help.
“I don’t know if we can pick up that slack or not,” Stobart said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been trying to do, but I’m not sure we’ve got that solved yet.”
Defensively, the Tigers are expected to challenge USC’s new quarterback, sophomore Reggie Perry, with a blitzing, gambling style that will force the untested Perry to react quickly.
Stobart helped bring Perry to USC as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator under Coach Larry Smith.
“I know when we recruited Perry, we felt like he was a high-quality quarterback,” Stobart said. “We were very, very happy to get him. We thought he would fit into the mold of being able to do a lot of the things that (former Trojan) Rodney Peete could do.”
Stobart’s hope is that Perry won’t start doing them today.
Even if he does, though, it probably won’t affect Stobart’s relationship with Smith. The two have been associated since 1967, when they were assistants under Bo Schembechler at Miami of Ohio. Two years later, they moved with Schembechler to Michigan, where they shared an office.
The young assistant coaches later went their separate ways, but they were reunited at Arizona in 1986, when Smith hired Stobart as his offensive coordinator. In 1987, they moved to USC.
“Larry is one of my very dear friends,” Stobart said.
And Smith said this week that he had always considered Stobart to be “one of the very best offensive football coaches--and minds--in the country.”
They have opposed each other twice as head coaches--Smith was at Arizona, Stobart at Utah--and Smith’s team won both times, 38-0 in 1983 and 45-10 in 1984.
Stobart can’t guarantee that it won’t happen again.
“This is not a new thing for Memphis State,” he said of the Tigers’ first game against the Trojans. “We’ve traditionally played some pretty good teams.
“Whether we’re ready to do this right now, we don’t know yet.”
Two second-year freshmen are expected to start in USC’s offensive line, tackle Tony Boselli and guard Kris Pollack. The highly touted Boselli has been entrenched since spring; Pollack is subbing for senior Derrick Deese, who is bothered by knee tendinitis. . . . Also expected to play are two true freshmen from Fontana High, guards Robert Loya and Clay Hattabaugh.
Memphis State, which is guaranteed $300,000 for today’s appearance, hasn’t had a winning season since 1983 and hasn’t played in a postseason game since 1971, when it beat San Jose State, 28-9, in the now-defunct Pasadena Bowl. . . . USC was scheduled to open the season Saturday against Kansas at Lawrence, Kan., but when the Trojans tried to get the game moved to the Coliseum, Smith said, the Jayhawks asked that it be canceled instead.
While USC will build its offense around junior tailback Mazio Royster, Smith doesn’t plan to make Royster a workhorse. “With the schedule we play, if we were to give him the ball 35 to 40 times a game, there wouldn’t be much left of him after the third or fourth game,” Smith said, adding that backups Deon Strother and Estrus Crayton will share the load.