They couldn’t run.
They were lucky that Nebraska’s defensive backs couldn’t catch.
What was once the country’s most beautiful collegiate offense filled the Coliseum on Saturday night with the awkward colors of an unfinished painting, a splotch there, a smear here.
Except for that vivid brushstroke that is Dwayne Jarrett.
For three hours against an outsized and outpaced Nebraska secondary, he streaked cardinal and splashed gold and left a mark so indelible his coach couldn’t wait to frame it.
“He’s back,” announced Pete Carroll, shaking Jarrett’s hand in the interview room after USC’s 28-10 victory. “He’s back.”
Where USC stumbled, Jarrett soared. Where USC creaked, he created.
And when the USC offensive coordinator publicly scolded him last week after he barely showed his facemask in the opener at Arkansas?
“Yeah, I listened,” he said with a grin.
All he heard Saturday were cheers, amazed cheers, Keyshawn cheers, the loudest of cheers from a cramped Coliseum audience smart enough to know that his long arms and bouncing step were the evening’s chief entertainment.
“We did not play well tonight, that was obvious to everyone, it was not up to our standards,” said grim offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, pausing. “But in answer to your first question, yes, Dwayne was very, very good.”
He was 11 catches good, more than the entire Nebraska receiving corps combined.
He was 136 yards good, more than half of Nebraska’s total offense.
Most important, he was two touchdowns good, giving the junior 31 career USC touchdown catches and the most amazing spot on the Trojans’ all-time list.
Would you believe, first? Yeah, first, ahead of Keyshawn Johnson, Lynn Swann, Curtis Conway. Johnnie Morton, deposed career leader Mike Williams, all those guys.
“I knew I was close, I didn’t know I actually got it,” Jarrett said afterward, shaking his head. “Hey, I’ve had a lot of help.”
From the top of his red skull cap to his corners of his loopy smile to the bottom of football pants that never seem dirty -- he’s that quick -- Jarrett is the antithesis of the flashy USC receiver.
He never screams for the ball, never hollers in the media, wasn’t afraid to admit that he almost moved back to New Jersey in his freshman year because he was so homesick.
And as he walked off the field Saturday night, it was as if he were the wide-eyed fan.
He giggled when coeds gathered around him to snap a picture. He smiled and knelt his 6-foot-5 frame to the ground to sign the back of a little boy’s jersey.
He posed and hugged and thanked and was so grateful and excited. This was the guy who played so lackadaisical against Arkansas that Kiffin openly wondered if he wasn’t living in the past?
“My quad was hurting against Arkansas, but nobody knew it,” said Jarrett, who had caught just five balls for 35 yards against the Razorbacks. “I was only about 85%.”
Didn’t the coaches know it?
“Well, yeah, but they don’t want to hear about that sort of thing,” he said with a laugh.
Kiffin knows that with his new offense, 85% of Jarrett is better than 100% of somebody else.
Kiffin knows that if the Trojans are to survive a season with a rookie quarterback and kid running backs, there are nights that Jarrett must put aside any nagging pain and carry them.
Kiffin is right. And he was right to push Jarrett. And if Jarrett slows down, expect him to be pushed again, all the way to Jan. 8 if necessary.
“He’s my coach, I respect him, and I listen to what he says,” Jarrett said.
The Trojans want Jarrett not only to wow, but to work.
“Some guys can just go out there and catch balls, but tonight, Dwayne really worked it,” Kiffin said. “He was all over the place.”
It was a night when the Trojans gained only 56 rushing yards through three quarters -- can a team have six running backs and no running backs at the same time?
It was a night when John David Booty, forced to constantly pass against a steady rush, was lucky that a couple of interceptions-destined-for-touchdowns were dropped.
It was a night when Jarrett’s work was not only important, it was irreplaceable.
“You’re always trying to get Dwayne in the game plan, and tonight showed why,” said Booty, with a hint of amazement in his voice. “If you throw it anywhere around him, he’ll pull it down.”
Jarrett ignited their first scoring drive with a 12-yard screen pass. He completed it with a 12-yard touchdown pass he caught as he slanted behind Nebraska cornerback Andre Jones.
That is the same player who this week essentially guaranteed a Cornhusker victory by referring to “when” they would win.
Jarrett not only shut him up, he shadowed them, towering over 6-foot Jones and 5-foot-9 Cortney Grixby, neither of whom ever seemed to have help.
Said Jarrett: “You love it when you see a smaller cornerback coming up to you in single coverage.”
Protested Phil Elmassian, Nebraska’s cornerbacks coach: “We did double-cover him.”
Goodness, then Jarrett must be faster than we thought.
Jarrett also rescued the Trojans last scoring drive, catching two passes worth 23 yards inside the Nebraska 30.
In between, he caught a diving five-yard touchdown pass, and set up the Trojans other touchdown with a comeback 21-yard catch on third-and-16 late in the second quarter.
“I don’t remember that pass,” said Booty, when asked about the third-down play. “I throw to him so much, I don’t remember all of them.”
“I’m just one of many,” he said, on a night when he was a one and only.
So Reggie Bush says, “I’m not worried about any of these allegations or anything like that.”
Of course he’s not. He’s not the one facing probation or the possible loss of a national championship.
He’s made his millions. He’s a hero in New Orleans. Why should he care who he may have hurt along the way?
It is yet unknown whether USC knew about the money that was allegedly funneled by agents to Bush last season.
But if Bush was being illegally paid, then Bush obviously knew about it, which means he was willing to destroy his university to benefit himself.
Michelle Wie can go home now.
Finishing dead last in consecutive men’s tournament’s in consecutive weeks, shooting a total of 29 over par in the process, the 16-year-old has become a poster girl for too much, too fast.