October 21, 2008

Practice Insider: Rhythm Nation

Rhythm isn't necessarily the kind of thing a head coach can really spot.

USC head coach Pete Carroll admitted it.

Did he see any difference in C.J. Gable and Stafon Johnson with the two alternating series in the first half of USC's 69-0 win over Washington State?

"No," he said.

Still, Johnson and his teammates acknowledged things were a little different for them in Pullman, Wash.

"It helped getting into the swing of things and figuring out the tempo. It helped me get the feel of the defense and get to know the tendencies of the defense.

"It gives us more of an opportunity to make better reads. You get the feel of the defense of what they're going to give you. Then, you exploit it."

Quarterback Mark Sanchez saw all three Trojan running backs rush for over 100 yards against the Cougars, and he said they looked to be in wonderful tune with the game.

"They both played very well," he said. "They looked like they were in a really good rhythm. I was trying to get the ball to them as deep as possible, and once they made they're first read, they were gone."

The performance won't lead to any change in Carroll's philosophy about shuffling running backs in and out, but he said he's confident that any of his guys could be "the" guy.

Still, don't look for USC to shift drastically away from its crowded backfield past.

"I don't blame them for feeling that way (in rhythm)," Carroll said. "It's just the way we've done. It's worked out pretty well. It keeps them fresh, and it keeps them healthy."

Homecoming

Over 100 people in Arizona Stadium will have their eyes focused on an unlikely target. Usually, the skill positions are the center of attention, but in the case, it'll be the USC center, Kristofer O'Dowd, that'll be getting lots of attention.

O'Dowd, a Tucson, Ariz. Native, grew up five minutes from the Arizona campus, and he said Tuesday that he expects around 120 friends and family at the game.

"It'll be good to have so much support there," he said. "I've always wanted to play in that stadium with that kind of atmosphere."

Arizona was in O'Dowd's final three choices before he committed to USC.

"I haven't really thought about it, and I haven't said anything to him," Carroll said. "But, we'll watch him and see if something is different."

Extra Points

• Days like Tuesday at Howard Jones Field help quash any feelings that the jump in the level of competition from Washington State to Arizona would be too much for a team to handle.

"That's why we practice against each other. Honestly, it's why we practice like we do," Carroll said. "It's all to make sure that there is no issue there.

"If you didn't do anything in between the games, it might be an issue, but that's not how we do it."

• Wide receiver Vidal Hazelton ran a great route and made a nice catch down the field during the Trojans' competition period, and as a reward, he got absolutely leveled by Taylor Mays inside the five-yard line.

Hazelton, who has been battling an ankle injury and a concussion, popped up after the big hit and finished running through the end zone.

Joe McKnight dressed for Tuesday's practice but didn't participate. He did, however, rehab with the training staff on the field.

"I'm just working with the trainers. When they say enough, it is enough. I don't really have any limitations," McKnight said. "I want to get back as soon as possible, but things are moving faster than I expected. They said I'm healing faster,"

McKnight said he's determined to play this weekend, as he's no longer feeling pain on the bottom of his toe - just on its side.

"I'm going to play this Saturday," he said. "I think I'll be ready."

Blake Ayles made a fancy one-handed catch during the installation period, but he later dropped a ball in seven-on-sevens.

• After practice, Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson took extra reps with Juggs Machine, catching plenty of extra passes.

Gerald Washington and Curtis McNeal did not practice, and Stanley Havili is dealing with a minor ankle injury. Still, Carroll said the team could be as healthy as ever pending McKnight's return to the field.

• Carroll said that freshman left tackle Tyron Smith is closer than ever to replacing Charles Brown in the starting lineup.


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