Back to earth

  • Wednesday, October 4, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – Scott White said playing USC this year won’t be like going against a fantasy team. And he means that with the utmost respect.

White, a senior linebacker for the Washington Huskies and the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Week last week, knows the Trojans’ offense can still move the ball. But somehow this year, things will feel a little more “real.”

“They were putting up some gaudy numbers,” White said of the 2004 and 2005 USC teams. “They were averaging 500 yards. They were doing it so effortlessly and people are expecting them to be on that same level.

“Now they’re more realistic. They’re more like a college football team. In the past, come on: LenDale White, Reggie Bush, all those guys. That was an all-star team to say the least. They’re a more realistic college team, but they have talent across the board.”

Indeed, the offensive talent level that the Trojans had the last couple years bordered on ridiculous. Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Bush. Super running back White. Explosive receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. One of the nation’s best offensive lines.

It wasn’t a matter of trying to stop, or even slow, the USC offense. It was just trying not to get completely overwhelmed.

Things have changed a little. Leinart, Bush and White are in the NFL and in their place are talented-but-less-experienced players. And it’s shown. USC is now third in the Pac-10 in scoring (31.5), fourth in passing, fifth in rushing and fourth in total offense. Of course, there are also only four seniors listed on this week’s depth chart for the Trojans.

“The characters have changed,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s obvious that we had three-year starters playing across the board in key positions. There’s no way to replace that experience and that confidence that you have. But we’re playing fantastic ball.”

Washington defensive coordinator Kent Baer said USC’s offense will be the best his unit has faced this season, pointing specifically to quarterback John David Booty, the offensive line and the receivers as the best guys the Huskies have gone against.

“They’re still the most talented team in the league,” Baer said.

Booty, a junior who has sat behind Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart in his career, has been terrific as a first-year starter, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 241.5 yards a game, along with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Carroll said he couldn’t ask any more from Booty, who has shown he can win in hostile road environments.

“He hasn’t been flustered for a moment,” Carroll said. “His poise has been awesome, his execution, his accuracy, his decision-making is great. … He’s played beautiful football for us.”

It’s helped Booty that although he might not have Bush and White to hand off to, he’s still surrounded with talent. The line features two of the nation’s best in center Ryan Kalil and left tackle Sam Baker. Tight end Fred Davis has 17 catches. True freshman Emmanuel Moody is averaging 7.3 yards a carry. Steve Smith has 23 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns.

And then there’s Jarrett. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior missed last week’s game with a shoulder sprain (Smith stepped in and had 11 catches for 186 yards). It seems likely he’ll return this weekend.

Last year, Jarrett had 91 catches for 1,274 yards and 16 touchdowns. Against the Huskies, he had seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns and this year he’s got 20 catches and three touchdowns.

“It’s not very often you play receivers that are that big and that fast,” Baer said. “When the ball’s in the air, he competes. He’s not afraid to get hit.”

If there is a worry for USC, it is the running game, and that’s just because of its youth. Chauncey Washington – who is sharing carries with Moody – is a junior who missed the last two seasons. But those weaknesses would be strengths for just about any other team.

“We haven’t run the ball as we’d like to but we’re still running it,” Carroll said. “We’re not changing stuff. We’re allowing the emergence of our young running backs.”

“Last year’s team was a special group,” Baer said. “These guys are going to be special too, they just don’t have the veteran experience. But they’re scoring enough points to win.”

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