USC RECEIVERS ARE DEEP THINKERS JARRETT, SMITH DOWNFIELD THREATS FOR THE TROJANS.
USC receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett made a bet with each other this season to buy lunch when one causes the other to miss a pass or commits a penalty that brings a play back.
So far, no one has paid up because Smith and Jarrett are enjoying a banner early season as USC's offense is committed to going deep. Smith ranks third in the nation in receiving yards (135.7) while Jarrett is third nationally in scoring (14 points per game).
It's the first detectable difference in philosophy since the departure of highly regarded offensive coordinator Norm Chow. In USC's first three games, Smith and Jarrett accounted for 36 of the Trojans' 66 receptions. Conversely, tight end Dominique Byrd has caught just six passes with no touchdowns after catching 37 passes last season.
``We talk about it all the time,'' said Smith, a former Taft High of Woodland Hills product. ``We're trying to be the most dominant position on the field.''
Assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian said there are more long passes because defenses blitzed frequently the first three games. He added that USC's ability to convert deep passes is much better.
``We've got a confidence about us and the quarterback throws deep well,'' Sarkisian said. ``If they try to stop the run, the way to come back is to throw downfield. We've had an interesting situation with the first three teams being overly aggressive.
``Maybe Matt (Leinart's) first year, we didn't throw deep as often, but now we'll take a shot if that's what the defense gives us.''
That's fine with Jarrett, who's caught seven touchdown passes and already has 20 in just more than one season. He's on pace to break Mike Williams' school-record of 30 touchdown receptions.
``We are the leaders,'' Jarrett said. ``Without us, it's hard to move the ball downfield. Steve and I complement each other. He's a short, quick receiver.''
Smith is the ``short'' receiver, even though he's 6-foot-1. But even if he's shorter than Jarrett (6-5), Smith's speed makes him a more dangerous deep threat.
``Steve's been an extremely pleasant surprise to me,'' said Sarkisian, who spent last season with the Oakland Raiders. ``He's been fantastic. He changes speeds and explodes out of the block. He's just got a great knack for the game.''
Smith said he sensed a change in the offense at the end of last season, when he caught seven passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma.
``I'm not surprised because I saw what we could do at the end of last year,'' he said. ``The coaches are more confident and we've got another year in their system.''
Jarrett and Smith are so prolific, freshman phenom Patrick Turner has gradually worked his way into the rotation without being force-fed playing time. In the past, USC didn't have the depth, forcing Williams and even Jarrett to play immediately.
``We don't have to put it all on Patrick Turner,'' Sarkisian said.
A telling stat of Smith and Jarrett's influence is Leinart's yards per completion. Last year, Leinart averaged 12.35 yards; this year he's averaged 17.42 per completion.
But will it last? Sarkisian said he expects teams to become more conservative defensively and believes Byrd and fullbacks David Kirtman and Brandon Hancock will become more involved.
``I see the trend changing and other guys getting more opportunities earlier, but if teams are intent on taking away the run, we'll take advantage of it,'' Sarkisian said.
Byrd said he doesn't mind being overlooked, even though he's been promoted as a Mackey Award candidate, which goes to the nation's top tight end.
``I'm always ready to touch the ball and I've been in the game plans, so I'm ready to contribute,'' Byrd said. ``I'm itching to contribute. But we have so many weapons to focus on and teams can't take away everything.''
Smith and Jarrett might be leading the offense, but that doesn't mean they are perfect. Jarrett was criticized by the coaches last week because he ran a poor pass route to the end zone, and Leinartthrew an interception.
``I took an extra step and I slipped a little bit on my break,'' Jarrett said.
Another point of criticism was effort, but Sarkisian attributed some of that to the fact Smith and Jarrett played a lot more against Oregon than earlier routs of Hawaii and Arkansas.
``The first two games, they went maybe 40-45 plays and the last game there were 85 plays and they probably went 75,'' Sarkisian said. ``It's not easy to go four quarters all of a sudden.''
But Jarrett bounced back with a nice touchdown catch in the second half, by sticking his foot just inbounds in the end zone.
``I knew if I didn't get hit, I could sneak my foot in,'' Jarrett said.
Scott Wolf, (818) 713-3607
4 photos, 2 boxes
(1 -- color) Trojans receiver Steve Smith (Taft of Woodland Hills) is third in the nation in receiving yards.
(2 -- color) Dwayne Jarrett has caught seven touchdown passes for the Trojans this season.
(3) no caption (Dwayne Jarrett)
(4) no caption (Steve Smith)
(1) NO. 1 USC at ARIZONA STATE
(2) DYNAMIC DUO