Slinging a different tune
The search, apparently, is over.
USC began its quest for a sixth consecutive Pacific 10 Conference title Saturday determined to step up its passing attack and find a receiver willing to step up and become quarterback John David Booty’s go-to guy.
The top-ranked Trojans achieved both goals and more in a 47-14 victory over Washington State before 86,876 at the Coliseum.
Booty kick-started his Heisman Trophy campaign by passing for 279 yards and four touchdowns, spreading the wealth to nine receivers. But the fifth-year senior repeatedly turned to another fifth-year senior, tight end Fred Davis, as the Trojans improved their record to 3-0 and extended their home winning streak to 35 games.
“They just kept feeding me the rock and letting me do what I do,” said the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Davis, who caught a career-best nine passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
USC built a 27-7 halftime lead and then scored on its first three possessions of the second half to cruise to victory in its Pac-10 opener.
“That was an old-fashioned butt-whipping,” Washington State Coach Bill Doba said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason.”
Through the first two games, the passing game certainly was not the reason.
But a week after running over and through Nebraska for an easier-than-expected road victory, USC turned to an aerial attack that had sputtered at times against Idaho and was often ineffective against the Cornhuskers.
USC receivers had struggled against Nebraska, furthering a belief that the Trojans could not adequately replace All-Americans Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.
But junior Patrick Turner rebounded from a poor performance against Nebraska by catching six passes for 64 yards against Washington State. Turner had three receptions for 34 yards during USC’s first drive that culminated with a six-yard touchdown pass from Booty to Davis.
“When you have a bad game you always want to come back and try to make good things happen to get out of that slump,” Turner said.
Sophomore Vidal Hazelton added six receptions for 47 yards, including a 20-yard completion early in the fourth quarter for USC’s final touchdown.
“The Nebraska game was real tough on us receivers because we weren’t really getting after the passing game,” Hazelton said. “But the running game was working so good, if I was a coach I wouldn’t have passed myself.”
It was clear from the outset that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was determined to get Booty into a rhythm.
Booty completed 10 of 11 passes during the opening 12-play scoring drive, mostly short throws to six different receivers. He built on that drive and finished 28 for 35 with one interception.
“The first two [games] we were running, running -- we’d have to throw on third downs here and there but it was first and second down tonight,” said Booty. “We were gunning it, just letting everybody get involved and letting it all hang loose.”
No one was more involved than Davis, who did most of his damage after he caught the ball.
“The thing we want Freddy to do is run with the ball, you know, get him some space,” Coach Pete Carroll said. “You can see he’s jumping over guys, bouncing off people and making things happen.”
Washington State (2-2, 0-1), which had rebounded from a season-opening loss to Wisconsin with routs of San Diego State and Idaho, came in buoyed by hope sprung from last season’s game against USC, which was not decided until USC safety Taylor Mays intercepted a pass by quarterback Alex Brink in the final seconds.
But Brink was under pressure throughout Saturday’s game. He was sacked twice and also was forced into throwing an interception that led to the first of David Buehler’s two field goals.
Brink finished 17 for 31 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He burned the Trojans for a 44-yard gain on Washington State’s first series, but was otherwise neutralized.
“We did a good job of limiting the big plays for the most part,” safety Kevin Ellison said. “They did what we expected they would do and we kept them under control.”
USC limited the Cougars to 64 yards rushing and held running back Dwight Tardy to 27, more than 70 under his average.
“We had a great feeling for what was going on and after the first series we didn’t see anything we didn’t see in practice,” said USC linebacker Keith Rivers, who had a game-high 14 tackles, including 2 1/2 for losses.
The Trojans’ running game did not approach the gaudy 313 yards of last week, but it proved effective again.
Senior Chauncey Washington started and rushed for 84 of USC’s 207 yards. Sophomore Stafon Johnson, last week’s star, got only nine carries and finished with 48 yards. Freshman Joe McKnight also got his first extended work and gained 48 yards in seven carries.
With Booty completing 19 of 25 passes for 191 yards and the Cougars committing two consecutive second-quarter miscues, the Trojans scored on five of six first-half possessions.
Washington scored on a seven-yard run and Booty connected with running back Allen Bradford for a four-yard touchdown to put the Trojans ahead, 40-14, in the third quarter before Booty capped his night with the 20-yard strike to Hazelton early in the fourth quarter.
USC plays at Washington next week as it continues its pursuit of another Pac-10 title.
“This was a good start,” Mays said. “It definitely gives us a lot of confidence heading to Seattle.”