National notebook

QB Leinart has Trojans flying high

He follows Palmer, keeps USC humming at 9-1

College Football

November 21, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart has been the breakthrough player of the 2003 season. After playing behind Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer last year, Leinart was not expected to do much more than learn offensive coordinator Norm Chow's passing schemes and hopefully not make too many mistakes doing it.

"Coming into the season I really didn't know what to expect because I had never played," said Leinart, a third-year sophomore who grew up in Santa Ana, Calif. "I wanted to do enough for us to win games. ... Carson set such a high standard here for us. I'm just trying to fill in and get the job done like he did last year."

Starting with his performance in a nationally televised 23-0 victory over then-No. 6 Auburn in the season opener, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound left-hander has done a lot more than most figured possible. Going into tomorrow's game against cross-town-rival UCLA, Leinart has led the Trojans to a 9-1 record and has put up numbers comparable to what Carson did last season as a senior.

Leinart has completed 187 of 298 passes for 2,662 yards and 28 touchdowns. Since throwing three interceptions in his team's only loss, a 34-31 triple-overtime defeat at Cal on Sept. 27, Leinart has thrown 20 touchdown passes and only one interception.

"He has been very comfortable with the rhythm of the reads he has to make," USC coach Pete Carroll said of Leinart during his weekly news conference. "He has not left the structure of the passing game. Our guys are working very hard to get open. The scheme is getting them open. It's very machine-like."

Considering the success Palmer had late in his career with the Trojans, and Leinart's immediate results this season, the question is being asked whether they are merely the messenger in Chow's system or if the system would work as well with anyone else in there.

"Coach Chow and I talk about this a lot. The system works, but you've got to have a quarterback who can get the job done and make the throws and the right reads, and have all the intangibles a quarterback needs," Leinart said. "It's more the quarterback, how he is and how he runs it."

Leinart and his teammates are true to the West Coast's laid-back culture in the way they handled the news this week that Ohio State vaulted over Southern Cal to No. 2 in the current Bowl Championship Series standings. Though it's still possible for the Trojans to wind up in the BCS championship game, their minds now are on UCLA.

"It didn't really let us down. We don't really care about that. We can't control how the BCS works. We can't control who wins," said Leinart.

Freshman legs

When Virginia Tech beat Miami in Blacksburg three weeks ago, the Hurricanes were exposed as to what Hokies cornerback DeAngelo Hall called "a one dimensional" offense. Force Miami to throw, and the Hurricanes couldn't win with a running game that featured backup tailback Jarrett Payton.

It also worked against Tennessee and nearly did against Syracuse.

Miami coach Larry Coker changed quarterbacks after the loss to the Hokies, and he has since admitted that he should have changed tailbacks as well. Freshman Tyrone Moss rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in a 17-10 win over the Orangemen.

Though Payton will get a ceremonial start in his final home game as a senior tomorrow against Rutgers, expect Moss to get most of the work at tailback.

Clueless in Seattle

Former Washington coach Rick Neuheisel's planned lawsuit against the school and the NCAA might have gained credibility this week when it was disclosed that his successor, Keith Gilbertson, had been admonished for the same sort of transgression that got Neuheisel fired last spring.

Gilbertson was one of 12 athletic department employees who were disciplined by athletic director Barbara Hedges for taking part in gambling pools for recent NCAA basketball tournaments. Neuheisel was fired after it came out that he won $12,000 over the past two years in neighborhood pools.

"They are light years different," said Norm Akans, special assistant to the president at Washington. "It's somebody putting a couple of bucks in their brother's pool versus a highly visible coach of our most prominent program going into a public place to secure the rights to NCAA tournament teams."

Though Gilbertson received a letter of admonishment, he also got a vote of confidence from Hedges that he will return next season despite the fact that the 5-6 Huskies could end up with their first losing record in 24 years if they lose to rival Washington State tomorrow.

A local television station has also reported that Gilbertson is being investigated by the state Ethics Board for using a booster's jet to take his wife and two children to the season-opening game at Ohio State. No state employees are allowed to receive gifts worth more than $50.

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

Three games to watch

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