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By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
For the University of Hawai'i football team, worse came to worst in yesterday's 63-17 loss to top-ranked Southern California at Aloha Stadium.
Not only were the 36-point-underdog Warriors left gasping by the speedier two-time defending national champs, but they face the prospect that two of their four game captains — free safety Leonard Peters and slotback/returner Jason Ferguson — might not play again this season.
Both suffered partially torn ligaments in their right knees. Today, they are scheduled to undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a procedure in which magnetic fields are used to create an image of the body's interior.
"It hurts," said Ferguson, choking back frustration from an injury suffered on the opening kickoff. "You can play through pain, but ..."
Peters, who was on crutches after suffering his injury in the fourth quarter, said, "I'm trying to stay off of it, so I can't feel the pain. We'll see what happens after the MRI."
But UH coach June Jones told reporters that both players were likely pau for the season.
"I'm hoping and praying for them," linebacker Tanuvasa Moe said in the somber UH locker room. "They're awesome leaders. If we lose them, it's really going to hurt the team."
The Warriors' mood was more hopeful early in the game, when they kept the Trojans off balance with their 1-2 quarterback combo — Tyler Graunke, who ran the option, and Colt Brennan, the pocket passer.
Even after their first drive ended when USC safety Darnell Bing intercepted Brennan and raced 65 yards for a 7-0 lead, the Warriors controlled the ball for more than 13 minutes in the first quarter. They closed to 7-3 on Dan Kelly's 30-yard field goal.
Then reality bit — hard — and USC used its superior speed and talent to set the tone.
Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, completed 18 of 24 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
Dwayne Jarrett caught seven passes for 88 yards and three touchdowns, and Steve Smith caught seven passes for 185 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown catch.
And tailback Reggie Bush, a Heisman finalist last year, rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 58 yards, and kept the Warriors nervous with the possibility of getting the ball.
"When he's out in the open, you can't get him," Leinart said of Bush, who aligned in the backfield, in the slot and at wideout. "You've got to account for him wherever he is."
Example No. 1: Jarrett's first touchdown, a 22-yarder off a play-action pass, was set up when the Warriors sent a hit squad after Bush on a fake handoff, abandoning the deep secondary.
Example No. 2: Bush got the ball on a misdirection run to the left, sprinted past cornerback Ryan Keomaka (UH's third-fastest player) and, from the 4, dived into the end zone to stick a 41-yard scoring play.
"Didn't you know Superman could fly?" running back Desmond Reed said.
"The (safety) was fast," Bush recalled, "and he had a pretty good angle. I made sure I did get in there, so that's why I dove."
Later, Keomaka would say: "He's fast. I give him that. I was getting off my block, and he was coming off the corner. He was at full speed, and I was at zero."
The Warriors, guided by new defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, tried to force the action with blitzes from all points. That turned the Trojans, quarterback Leinart said, into counter-punchers. Leinart said USC's strategy was this: identify the blitzer, then throw to the vacated area.
"When you have an aggressive defense that likes to blitz a lot, we have to utilize what we know how to do," said Leinart, who threw mostly off a three-step dropback. "That's me getting the ball out quick, taking advantage of one-on-one matches and using that to our advantage."
After UH closed to 28-10 on running back Bryan Maneafaiga's 27-yard, catch-and-sprint play in the third quarter, USC started its next drive at its 34. On second-and-1 from the 33, Leinart noticed the Warriors aligned 11 defenders within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. He called for maximum protection — the fullback and tight end stayed back as blockers — pumped-fake to draw cornerback Kenny Patton and then lofted a long pass to Smith, who got behind Patton to score on a 67-yard play.
"We looked at each other, and we just knew what to do," Smith said.
Leinart said: "Steve did a double-move, and got behind the corner. It was easy."
All three of Leinart's scoring passes were to Patton's side of the field.
"No. 24 (Patton) is a good player ... but we knew he was hurt," Leinart said. "We knew he had (arthroscopic knee) surgery a couple of weeks ago."
With UH repeatedly blitzing, Patton often was left alone to cover either the sure-handed Smith or the 6-foot-5 Jarrett, who can run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds and has a 40-inch vertical jump. Patton said he was not hindered by his refurbished right knee or limited practice time.
"I made a couple of mistakes," Patton said. "My eyes weren't in the right place. It's assignment and alignment. ... On their double moves, I was trying to get interceptions. I was trying to make big plays."
As for his health, Patton, who received permission to play during pregame warmups, said "the coaches wouldn't put me out there if they didn't have faith in me. I kind of felt I let them down. I let my teammates down."
There were enough opening-game mistakes to share. Bing's 65-yard interception return came after Brennan misread the coverage on a quick slant.
"It was one of those things where I've been reading that play a certain way all week," Brennan said. "If a guy backed up on the middle receiver, 'throw it, hit it, get it to him.' ... They pretty much switched guys. I saw (a linebacker) back up, and I threw it. (Bing) jumped in there. He was right there. It was a read I'm two or three games away from making (naturally)."
USC's Reed parlayed UH kick returner Mikhail Powell-Kafentzis' fumble into a 15-yard return for a touchdown.
And UH slotback Davone Bess dropped two passes, including one at the USC 15.
"I saw 'touchdown,' " Bess said. "I was thinking too fast instead of looking the ball in. It was a rookie mistake, but I'm learning from it."
Brennan said: "The reason they're the national champions is because they've got great athletes, and they know how to play and win football games. They don't make mistakes. Physically, we were with them, but we made too many errors, and they know how to capitalize on them. Once we started making enough, they started running the tables on us. There's nothing you can do about it but work hard day in and day out."
Reach Stephen Tsai at email@example.com.