USC is chipper, healthy at Wednesday practice

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
11:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- A cool breeze swept across the Howard Jones practice field at USC on Wednesday evening, and it brought a sniff of fall to accentuate the growing big-game buzz and chilled out worries about the Trojans' injury situation with three days until Ohio State comes to town.

Linebacker Brian Cushing, a day after sitting out half of practice with a bruised hip, was back running with the defense showing few, if any, ill-effects.

"It didn't bother me at all," said Cushing, who still sports a brace on his banged-up left wrist.

Receiver Vidal Hazelton also returned to practice, though he was still limited by his sprained ankle and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said the junior is not 100 percent.

"Yeah, he came out and ran today and did some good looking stuff but if it blows up tonight or if it blows up in the morning it will make it difficult for him to practice tomorrow," he said.

Other than a sprained ankle to backup strong safety Will Harris, the Trojans appear healthy.

Of course, a bye week after the massacre of Virginia helped.

"I think we've taken full advantage of it and we're better because of it," coach Pete Carroll said.

STANLEY HAVILI IS A BACK IN FULL: He gets lost in the shuffle of USC's half-dozen running backs, but Stanley Havili is more than a battering ram of a blocking back for the offense.

"He can do a lot of things. We move him all over the place," Carroll said.

Havili, a 225-pound sophomore, caught one pass for 14 yards and ran once for five yards against Virginia, but he averaged 6.4 yards on 21 carries a year ago and hauled in 34 receptions for 248 yards with five TDs in 2007.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel noticed, pointing out "the fullback who does all the catching and all those things."

Said Carroll, "We really trust him. We really go to him in critical situations when we need to. For just a sophomore, he is such a big factor in this offense."

WHAT AYLES THE TROJAN OFFENSE: Freshman TE Blake Ayles' stat line from Virginia won't blow your mind: one reception for two yards.

But he's definitely part of the plan on offense, though perhaps not to a large extent against the Buckeyes.

"We're using him in all different situations but we're not ready to put him out there play after play after play," Carroll said.

Ayles has skills.

"He's a unique athlete at the position," Carroll said. "He's fast. He's really tough. He loves blocking."

ANECODOTE OF THE DAY: Carroll was asked about any memories he had of his single season as an Ohio State assistant coach in 1979 when the Buckeyes went to the Rose Bowl undefeated but lost to USC.

He recalled the second game of the season against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were coming off a messy performance against Ohio (note the interesting symmetry).

"We were thinking they don't look very good at all," Carroll said.

Day before the game, he called a coaching buddy, Dante Scarnecchia, who's currently the Patriots' offensive line coach.

Scarnecchia noted that Minnesota's staff had visited with Mouse Davis at Portland State during the offseason. You know: Davis, the father of the run-and-shoot.

That's not what Minnesota ran against Ohio -- and not what the Buckeyes had expected to see.

"I couldn't hang up the phone fast enough," Carroll said. "We were totally skunked."

Sure enough, Minnesota shocked the Buckeyes with a run-and-shoot offense and jumped ahead at halftime.

Ohio State coach Earle Bruce spent the entire halftime ripping into defensive coordinator Dennis Fryzel, who didn't get any time to re-think the second-half scheme, according to Carroll.

But Ohio State pulled out the game, 21-17, mostly containing the Gophers with their standard defense.

Afterwards, reporters went to Fryzel to ask how the Buckeyes escaped.

"[Fryzel] said, 'The greatest halftime adjustments!'" Carroll recalled.

Wonder if the Buckeyes, after looking terrible against Ohio, come out in a run-and-shoot?

CARROLL IS PUMPED: Carroll isn't your average 57-year-old coach. He not only opts to throw passes -- surprisingly good ones -- during some practice periods, on Wednesday he ran down the field with the kickoff team.

Bet Bear Bryant never did that.

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