By Craig Degel
Arizona Daily Wildcat October 14, 1996
LOS ANGELES - Any question about whether Southern Cal missed its suspended players in its loss to Cal two weekends ago was answered Saturday.
The play of those Trojans, and some decidedly un-Arizona-like plays by the Wildcats, contributed to USC's 14-7 win in front 51,088 people at the Memorial Coliseum.
Defensive tackle Darrell Russell, linebacker Sammy Knight, safety Brian Kelly and wide receiver Larry Parker were suspended from the Trojans' 22-15 loss to the Bears for trading shoes for apparel. Saturday night, after being reinstated, they made up for lost time.
"It was very important," Knight said of the effect the suspensions had on the Trojans. "What happened last week definitely hurt our team."
Knight made the biggest impact on the Wildcats, finishing the night with 10 tackles, eight of them unassisted. Kelly recorded two tackles and broke up two passes.
Russell caused problems for Arizona simply because the pre-season All-American demanded attention. He finished the night with four tackles and a sack, but all the attention focused on Russell opened the door for players like Chris Claiborne, who finished with 9 tackles and a pass deflection.
Parker was quiet for the most part, finishing the game with just two receptions for 24 yards, but his first reception of the day was the most important. It was a 15-yard third-down catch in the third quarter that prolonged a long USC drive that eventually ended in a blocked field goal.
The blocked field goal was about the only thing that went right for the Arizona special teams.
Twice during the game, Arizona (3-3 overall, 1-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) prolonged a USC drive by running into punter Jim Wren. In all, the Wildcats - who, going into the game, were the least penalized team in the Pac-10 - were flagged 10 times for 86 yards, about twice their average.
UA head coach Dick Tomey said the penalties were merely a matter of players trying to do too much.
"It was just guys wanting to win, trying hard to make a play," he said. "It was just a lack of discipline. You need to be able to spill your guts without doing things like that."
The Trojans (4-2, 2-1) also benefited from two big Arizona fumbles deep in USC territory.
With the Trojans leading 7-0 in the second quarter, thanks to LaVale Woods' 1-yard scoring dive, Arizona was driving. After stalling at the USC 10-yard line, the Wildcats dug deep into their bag of tricks and pulled off a successful fake field goal on an option from holder Ryan Hesson to kicker Matt Peyton.
However, on the next play, UA quarterback Keith Smith tripped pulling away from the center and fumbled, ending the threat.
"That's always my fault," Smith said. "It's frustrating to get a couple of good plays and then things get shot down."
With the Wildcats down 14-0, Smith fumbled again, at the USC 24-yard line, ending another scoring threat. Then, just as things began to look good for Arizona again, disaster struck.
First, Smith went down with a shoulder stinger. Backup quarterback Brady Batten then stepped in, hitting Richard Dice for a 34-yard completion to the Trojan 11-yard line. A pass interference play gave the Wildcats a first-and-goal at the 2.
Batten connected again with Dice for the score, but there would be no prolonged celebration. After making the catch, Dice went down with what turned out to be a sprained right knee. The injury will probably require season-ending surgery for the senior captain.
As they had all afternoon, the Wildcats' defense, led by lineman Joe Salave'a, kept giving the offense opportunities. However, the offense had to deal with a USC defense bent on giving its offense just as many chances.
"It was a hard-fought win, a difficult football game," USC head coach John Robinson said. "I was happy with the win because we had to fight and scratch and kick."