Big Byrd

A thick fog presided over Reser Stadium Saturday night, and engulfed the entire Trojan offense for much of the first half. The Trojans finally had a chance to break through.

David Kirtman caught a short pass from Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart, and Reggie Bush charged to the Oregon St. 16 yard line on a 44-yard reverse with 5 minutes left in the half. But after a Leinart incompletion and a stuff of Lendale White, the Trojans were faced with a pivotal third and 12. Leinart dropped back, and under a heavy rush, lofted the football towards the back of the end zone. All that could be made out through the Oregonian haze was a large-bodied Trojan wearing a double-digit numbers reach his left hand out to try and make the grab. Then, silence. Of the 36,412 on hand in Corvallis, no more than 412 could see exactly what happened. The officials did, and they threw two hands in the crisp, night air to signify USC's initial touchdown.

Inside the press box high atop the south side of Reser Stadium, normally-reserved writers and broadcasters sat stunned searching for answers and began whispering question after question to one another. Did he really catch that? With one hand? Did he just toast Brandon Browner? Was that Mike Williams? Who in the world was that?

In the week leading up to the showdown against number 15 ranked and undefeated Arizona State in mid October, USC fans, students and alumni were conducting an American Idolesque search for Matt Leinart's next favorite target. Following the departures of standout senior Keary Colbert, near NFL-draftee Mike Williams and general education-flunking flanker Whitney Lewis, it seemed Leinart found his guy. After a huge 7 catch, 129 yard performance in a comeback road win over Stanford, Steve Smith seemed to be the answer. Smith even snagged two huge balls in the battle against California, one of which was a 45-yard skinny post that setup a Trojan field goal. The second catch, which went for 31 yards down the north sideline would prove to be his temporary demise. Smith twisted his leg and suffered a stress fracture--out until Notre Dame.

Where would the Trojans go from here? Dwayne Jarrett provided some temporary help and grabbed 5 balls for 139 yards and 3 TDs against ASU. Reggie Bush even lined up at wideout more frequently, but the Trojans needed more. Through the next three games, opposing defenses keyed-in on Jarrett, holding him to just 116 total yards. A big boy would step up big time, however.

Dominique Byrd had sat out for an entire year by the time he finally got back to action in the Cal game. Dominique's routes looked rusty, and he still looked like he was favoring the knee injury he suffered after banging knees with Mike Williams during a pickup basketball game over the summer. What a difference a week makes. Even though Dominique only caught 3 balls against ASU, they went for 49 yards and included a 22-yarder in which Dominique shed just about the entire Sun Devil defense, and showed that he was back for good.

Dominique continued his consistent play against Washington and Washington St, and helped ignite a sluggish Trojan offense. He was the team's leading receiver in the 38-0 blanking of the Dawgs, with 5 catches for 57 yards. Dominique, who is accustomed to frosty weather being a Minnesota native, heated things up in Martin Stadium against the Cougars, and led USC with five catches in the 42-12 pounding.

After a few warm-up contests, Dominique was ready to step up. In a hard fought battle in Corvallis, Oregon, Dominique caught seven Leinart tosses for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns, and cemented himself as an integral part of the offense, and perhaps Leinart's favorite target. After the game, he commented on their budding friendship. "Outside of football, we also have a great relationship, Matt's a really good guy."

On a key 3rd and 14, Dominique knew he was going to have to make a play. After the game, he proudly told a crew of reporters, "Matt gave me that look in the huddle like, you gotta go up and get it if I throw it." Go up and get it he did. Byrd made an amazing leaping grab for 28 yards, a catch that won the field position battle for USC on the second to last play of the third quarter.

Dominique displayed receiver-esque skills on that crucial play, and he says lining up as a wideout is just as natural as tight end. "I lined up as a wide receiver in high school, no one knows that."

Dominique was lined up at wide receiver on another key third down in the third quarter, but this time he didn't have to make a play. The Oregon St. defense was so concerned with matching all-conference corner Brandon Browner one-on-one with Dwayne Jarrett and containing the USC tailbacks that no one even thought about covering Byrd on the press box side of Reser Stadium. Byrd was supposed to run a slant and go, but he gave his new best friend, Leinart, a little wave, right a straight go route, pulled in the ball around the 10 yard line, and charged into the end zone for USC's first lead of the game.

Dominique's dominating performance this past Saturday's came as little surprise to head coach Pete Carroll and the rest of his staff. After the game, Carroll remarked, "He's been doing well. This was just the night we got a number of chances to get him the football and he came through. I don't think he's passed up many opportunities so far."

Byrd has passed up few opportunities during his entire career at USC. In his first start in a raucous Jordan-Hare Stadium in Alabama, Byrd had 3 grabs for 63 yards, including a sensational 42-yarder in which Dominique showed both his surprisingly elusive speed and overwhelming power. The 6-foot-3, 260 pound junior from Minneapolis had three 60-yard receiving performances before he tore knee ligaments in his sixth start against Stanford. At that point in the season, Dominique was third on the team in yards, and trailed two guys named Keary and Mike.

But no catch, in that game, or in Dominique's career was as spectacular and as crucial as his second career touchdown, and USC's first step in a 28-20 comeback win over the Beavers. So, to answer all your questions; Yes he caught that ball, of course it was with one hand, he did smoke Brandon Browner, and no that wasn't Mike Williams, that was Dominique Byrd.

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