September 11, 2008

Practice Insider: Line play will be key

The Trojan offensive line dominated in USC's season opener, giving Mark Sanchez time to scan down the field between options.

The end results were a career day for Sanchez and a 52-7 win.

Two weeks later when the offensive line sets out to keep Sanchez off the grass, though, things will be a little different.

It'll be Ohio State this time.

"These guys are the best defense in America," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "Every single guy played last year, and statistically, they were the best defense in the country.

"This is the ultimate challenge for our guys at this point. How can you play someone better than the best?"

A week into camp, it didn't seem like the offensive line could handle the 50th-best defense in the country. But after Thursday's practice at Howard Jones Field, sophomore center Kristofer O'Dowd said things have come together.

"We've been out here for a lot of days with the bye week. We've been nailing everything down, competing, and it looks pretty good right now," O'Dowd said. "We watched all the film from last year and we got to see both games this year. They've added a few new things, but we're prepared for it."

This season's Ohio State defense features only two first-time starters.

"Their interior seven is really strong. They're pretty much all returners," O'Dowd said. "Where we could struggle is with communication, if we don't get all our calls right. That's a factor with anything.

"We need to pick up the pressures like we're supposed to."

O'Dowd said he and the rest of the line are ready for the biggest challenge they've faced, and playing in front of a sellout home crowd will only magnify it.

"It's an exciting point. It's our first home game," he said. "Whoever isn't excited shouldn't get off the bus."

Speed kills

Everson Griffen has a good plan for attacking Ohio State stud tackle Alex Boone.

"He's a pretty big guy. I can't let him put his hands on me," Griffen said. "We're just going to run around him every time.

"They're big guys, but once we go out there and start running and hitting them in the mouth, what can they do? They can't do nothing. If we do it every single play, we'll just hammer them down. That's what we plan on doing."

Defensive tackle Averell Spicer said playing fast will be a major key for the Trojan defensive line. And like most games, Spicer said, it'll come down to the trenches.

"If they drive us back, they're going to get us," Spicer said. "If we drive them back, we'll get them.

"If we play in their backfield, it'll be hard for them to run anything."

Extra Points

Rey Maualuga suffered a hyperextended right elbow during work with the service team Thursday. After practice, Maualuga said the elbow felt fine.

"It's just a little thing," he said, "nothing that will keep me from playing."

Maualuga returned to the practice field after meeting with trainers and finished work against the service team.

Curtis McNeal attended practice and said he received word Thursday that he had been cleared to play by the NCAA. He said he expects to be practicing by next week and is a likely redshirt candidate.

Carroll addressed the statuses of McNeal and Nick Perry after practice.

"It's really getting close," Carroll said. "Everything is under review on both these kids right now. We're more hopeful than we were yesterday, but things have been bogged down in the Clearinghouse. That's what we're waiting for."

The deadline to enroll in fall classes is Friday.

• Carroll said nothing in his approach changes after Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel called Chris Wells "doubtful" for Saturday's game.

"We'll just have to wait until game time," he said. "It's what we're going to do anyway."

Vidal Hazelton said he received clearance from team doctors and is available to play Saturday. Carroll said he's a little behind as far as preparation goes, but he'll be physically ready top help the team.

Fili Moala's back felt better Thursday at practice, saying he slept on his floor Wednesday night.

• Carroll said Sanchez doesn't need to have a monster game for USC to leave the Coliseum Saturday with a win.

"He feels great about the preparation, I know that," Carroll said. "I just want him to play the way he's capable of playing and to get the ball to everybody. I wasn't expecting him to do anything out of the ordinary in the last game, and I don't now."

• Spicer said his surgically repaired knee is finally starting to feel "normal" - back to the way it felt prior to the surgery.

• Here's the preliminary list of celebrities, athletes and former Trojans who will be at Saturday's game.

Hollywood: Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington, Nick Lachey, Christian Slater, Henry Winkler, John Krasinski, Ed Helms, Robert Patrick, Kaitlin Olson, David James Elliot, Zach Galifianakis, George Eads, Jerry Bruckheimer and Alexis Jones

Sports: Dick Butkus, Isiah Thomas, Michael Strahan, Eddie George, Greg Oden, Amare Stoudemire, Anna Rawson and John David Washington

USC Football Alumni: Anthony Munoz, Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Charles White, Sam Cunningham, Rodney Peete, Dennis Thurman, Johnnie Morton, Todd Marinovich, Sean Salisbury, Jeff Bregel, Chris Hale, Mazio Royster, Malaefou MacKenzie and David Kirtman

USC 2008 Olympians: Ous Mellouli, Larsen Jensen, Klete Keller and Erik Vendt

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