October 8, 2008

Practice Insider: Trojans need protection

As a general rule, the offensive line always needs to protect its quarterback from an aggressive pass rush.

Saturday when the Trojans host Arizona State, that rule won't change.

But with either a banged-up Mark Sanchez or untested Mitch Mustain at quarterback, the pressure will be on the offensive line to build a wall around whoever is passing the ball.

"It's critical that we protect the quarterbacks," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "We need to get Mitch time so he can see what's going on, and we have to protect Mark."

Sanchez took roughly a third of the snaps at quarterback Wednesday, looking very sharp in seven-on-seven drills and during the red zone period.

"It was a really good sign," Carroll said. "The doctors thought if he made through today and didn't have any problems, he'd go full-go tomorrow. He could play in the game if he does that."

Mustain also played well Wednesday until a couple of late interceptions to Kevin Ellison and Marshall Jones.

Still, Damian Williams said he's starting to see some flashes of the quarterback Mustain had been in Gus Malzahn's offense in high school and in a year at Arkansas.

"It's fair to say he's struggled at times. It's tough coming from one offense you really know to a whole different thing," Williams said. "The west coast offense is a lot different than the spread. Being a quarterback makes it even worse.

"He's starting to settle in. He's a gamer, and he's been like that since high school."

Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Trojan offensive line will have its hands full with a pair of talented defensive ends.

Arizona State's Luis Vasquez and Dexter Davis have terrorized opposing quarterbacks and will challenge USC's tackles - namely Butch Lewis and Charles Brown.

"They have two really good ends. Both are really agile and good athlete. Davis is one of the best in the conference," USC offensive line coach Pat Ruel said. "The biggest thing for us is to do things fundamentally right.

"It should be a pretty good match up out there because we think we have some pretty good tackles."

Davis has four sacks already this season - second-best in the Pac-10.

Whoever the offensive line is protecting, the unit will have to do its job.

"We demand a lot out of ourselves to do things right and use the right techniques. It doesn't make a difference back there," Ruel said. "Does it make a difference if one guy is banged up, or does it make a difference if one guy's making his first start?

"The only thing that matters is that we're up there fighting our asses off."

Extra Points

• Linebacker Rey Maualuga practiced at full speed Wednesday, wearing a brace on his right knee.

Maualuga showed Carroll enough Wednesday for the Trojan head coach to name Maualuga the starter for Saturday's game with Arizona State.

Stanley Havili did not practice Wednesday because of a stiff neck - an injury he suffered on the final play of Tuesday's practice. Carroll said Havili expects to play Saturday, but if he can't Adam Goodman would start and freshman D.J. Shoemate would play.

Shoemate moved to fullback two weeks ago, and said the change of perspective has been a little tough.

"Right now, I've just got to learn the whole offense from a new perspective," Shoemate said. "There are definitely a lot of things I can improve on.

"Blocking's not a problem. I'll just be ready if they call on me."

Joe McKnight tweaked his knee early in practice and got the rest of the day off. Carroll said the injury didn't look serious. Marc Tyler also missed practice.

"It's a good thing (Curtis McNeal) is out here to pick up the slack," Carroll said.

• Linebacker Luthur Brown has still not received clearance to play Saturday. Michael Morgan didn't practice Wednesday, but he said he'll practice Thursday after suffering a concussion against Oregon.

• Carroll said he likes his team's focus and attitude this week, and he loved looking at his offense and defense battle to a stalemate Wednesday.

"We're practicing like crazy," he said. "This was a great practice today."

• Carroll said he's not sure who will play quarterback for Arizona State, comparing the Sun Devils' situation to his Trojans' quarterback uncertainty.

If Danny Sullivan does start, Carroll said he won't attack the inexperienced quarterback any differently than he would Rudy Carpenter.

"We're going to respect their system," Carroll said. "We don't enough about (Sullivan) to know what he looks like. We already have a game plan in order and we won't change it because of the quarterback."

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