October 11, 2008

Sanchez, Carpenter play despite injuries

Football and toughness are typical bedfellows, and Saturday was not an exception.

Usually, toughness is descriptive for the guys in the trenches - the hulking, 300-pound lineman. It can be used to talk about the linebackers, the safeties, the tight ends and the fullbacks.

Saturday, though, perhaps the toughest players on the field during the USC-Arizona State game at the Coliseum were the guys under center, as USC prevailed 28-0.

In the days leading up to the game, it was unclear whether Mark Sanchez or Rudy Carpenter would be healthy enough to play. Both did.

"Those guys both love the game. You can tell," linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "Sometimes you just wake up and tell yourself that you're ready to go. You just wake up and do things.

"That's what Mark did, and I'm pretty sure that's what Carpenter did."

Sanchez sprained his MCL during the Trojans' win over Oregon a week ago and didn't have the full week of practice at his disposal, part of the reason he looked out of rhythm, Pete Carroll said.

Still, not entirely unlike Willis Reed, Sanchez's presence on the field gave No. 8 USC an emotional rise.

"I think it's incredible that he played," Carroll said. "Just the fact that he got back gave the team lift. He fought his way through it. This guy has just been a hero with how he fought his way back.

"I know it wasn't a game he's proud of or happy about, but I'm proud as hell for that guy."

Sanchez's ability to return from injury hasn't gone unnoticed inside the USC locker room.

"If I had to choose anybody, he'd be my top choice to go fight a war with," center Kristofer O'Dowd said. "He's fought through a lot of things already this year, and he didn't have to play this week with his leg. But he came out with no complaints. He can take a lot of pain.

"He throws his body out to block guys. That's a huge thing with us as a unit. I'll go to battle with him everyday."

Sanchez took a fair amount of punishment Saturday, running behind O'Dowd for a touchdown and a first down and fumbling after a jarring hit from behind. Still, it probably didn't match what the USC defense put on Carpenter.

Carpenter was under immense pressure from the Trojans all game, taking a number of big hits.

Maualuga said Carpenter showed him something Pac-10 fans already knew.

"Rudy's a fighter," Maualuga said. "He really wanted to come out, compete and play. The times when he was hit, he got back up and went right back into the huddle.

"It surprised me. Some quarterbacks don't get up from those kinds of hits."

Carpenter's status was much more in doubt than Sanchez's leading up to game time, but when he led his team on Arizona State's first drive, USC players weren't shocked to see him out there.

"I wasn't surprised at all with Rudy. He's such a competitive guy. He's tough-minded, really gung-ho," defensive tackle Fili Moala said. "It wasn't surprising at all to see him out there hobbling on ankle, trying to get his team ready to go."

Carpenter made his 37th-straight start but was clearly wounded, like a fish slowly leaking blood in a pool full of sharks.

"You see him out there not at his best," Moala said, "and you definitely want to get back there and put a little more hurtin' on him."

USC pounded and pounded on Carpenter until Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson decided he had enough. Not surprisingly, Carpenter didn't like it.

"It's hard," he said. "Obviously I want to stay and play, but the coach felt it was the right thing to do."

USC players can relate.

Kyle Moore said he didn't know what it would take for the Trojans to keep Sanchez off the field.

"Surgery maybe. It'll have to be something really drastic for him not to play," Moore said. "It's so important to Mark to be out there. I know he'll do anything to help us win."

Saturday, just being out there was enough.

"He's the toughest quarterback I've ever been around," wide receiver Ronald Johnson said. "I love it."

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