Pac-12: USC-Ohio State coverage

Pac-10 Q&A: USC LB Chris Galippo

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
11:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Chris Galippo is eager to show what he can do in the middle of USC's defense.

Chris Galippo has suffered through two back surgeries and waited patiently to take his spot in the middle of the USC defense.

He's paid his dues. So, yes, he's eager to show he can be the Trojans next great linebacker.

Galippo, sophomore, is a tackling machine. He recorded 381 tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks. And he led the Trojans with nine tackles -- three for a loss -- in their season-opening 56-3 victory over San Jose State.

The former USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-American will step into the national spotlight for the first time Saturday at Ohio State. He will lead a defense that is replacing eight starters, including all of the members of perhaps the best crew of linebackers in college football history.

But before he does that, we wanted to check in and get his measure before he steps onto the field at the Horseshoe.

From the film of the San Jose State game, what were some things you weren't happy with?

CG: Tackling. Tackling personally and as a unit is something we have to emphasize this week. Not only because the opponent requires it. It was the the first game and it was the first time we were full-speed against a real opponent. But there were times when guys weren't bringing their feet, running through tackles and were slipping off stuff. But it's stuff that can be easily corrected if it's emphasized and pushed -- and I know it will be because Coach [Pete] Carroll told us it will be.

Your thing is you make a lot of tackles -- you're always around the ball. Against San Jose State, you also made a lot of tackles for a loss. Do you feel like you have a sixth sense -- something beyond reading your keys -- that you can anticipate what's about to happen with an offense?

CG: It's an instinct -- I don't know if you'd call it a sixth sense or anything like that. I think it comes from preparation and from seeing things over and over again. The more you see things, the more you're around things, you can kind of anticipate things. The more you're around your brothers and sisters you can anticipate how they will react. It's the same thing in football. The more you see the more you can anticipate. Watching film yesterday, we saw that San Jose State kept running that sweep with their receivers. They ran it twice but on the third time in the film -- and I didn't remember that I did this -- but in the film when the receiver starting coming, I just started walking up and they snapped and we made the play in the backfield. It's just about catching on and being smart enough to figure out what the offense is trying to tell you. The offense speaks a language to you, it's your job to interpret that language.

Road games are hard on offenses, but what does it mean for a defense to walk out in front of 100,000 people who don't like you?

Chris Galippo: It's a little different. When their offense is on the field, they won't be as loud -- at least until they get a first down or something like that, then the crowd erupts. So you have to get used to the rhythm of the crowd and use it to your advantage. You've got to thrive on turning the volume down instead of turning it up like when you're playing at home. But defense, to me, is so much different than offense. It's not so much assignments -- you go out there, you light your head on fire and you knock somebody out. I feel like it's a little more free.

Does this team thrive on hostile environments? Some of these guys talk like they enjoy being on the road more -- like, 'We're USC. We're the big show. We're taking over your stadium.'

CG: It's my first year starting but I love traveling. I love getting on the plane with the team, being on the plane for five or six hours, going across the country, being in a hostile environment, being in a hotel with people kind of looking at you funny. It's different. Then going out onto the field, 55 players and the coaching staff. It's like, that's it, those are our guys, all these other -- 100,000 or whatever -- that's all them. It's a cool feeling.

Give me your impressions of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

CG: He's a big guy. Anytime you've got a big guy like that with the speed he has it's going to be a tackle-emphasis week. Our tackling has to be spot on. He's not a guy you can just arm tackle. He sheds tackles and he can throw on the run. He's very dynamic in what he can bring to a football game. You've really got to be on your toes. He's the kind of guy that you stop an offense on first and second down and it's third and 15 and you drop back in coverage and all of the sudden he breaks for a first down. You've got to be ready for the those situations. And ready after those situations to go, 'OK, let's go another three.'

How much of a mentor was Rey Maualuga for you?

CG: Rey's a little more quiet. A little more to himself. As much as he's so crazy and out there on the field I think he's a little more to himself off the field. But there is so much from his game that I can take from him and add to mine. In the linebacker room, looking at guys like [Brian Cushing] and Rey and Kaluka Maiava, they were guys who did things well but did things differently from each other -- everyone's got something that you can take and add to your game. Even with Coach Norton as a player. You can watch the way he prepared and his intensity on the field, the way that he carries himself -- everyone around you has something to can take from them and use and bring to your own game. So physically standing behind Rey in practice and watching him make plays -- there were so many things that he does that make him who he is.

Have you seen the movie "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise? Would you say you're more Ice Man and Rey's more Maverick? [Galippo says, "Yeah," but his expression seems to say, "That movie came out before I was born."]

You seem like a more cerebral player, a guy who's not going to go nuts for the kill shot -- and maybe leave his gap to do so.

CG: Yeah. Yeah. I consider my strengths to be my discipline, my preparation because I'm not the most athletic guy. I'm not the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the fastest guy, but I'm going to be the toughest and take care of things I can control. You can't control the body you were born into, the shell you carry around. You can prepare in the off-season but I've been injured and had things I can't control. But I can control how tough I am and my technique. And in football, it doesn't matter how big you are, as long as you've got the attitude, you can knock anybody out.

Do you think it might help this defense that you don't come into the season with all the magazine covers?

CG: Yeah, there's a humbleness. Besides [two-time All-American safety Taylor Mays], there's no one on our defense who is Mr. Football or a Butkus candidate -- any of that. Which is a little different from the past. When we were walking down the Trojan Walk last Saturday, it was like me, Malcolm Smith, Will Harris, Jurrell Casey and Matt Barkley was behind us. We were walking and no one even noticed us. They were all yelling at Matt. It's humbling because it's like, "I'm a starter, too!" But you've got to earn it. If anything, it helps us because it keeps us grounded and give us motivation -- something to work for.

Give me a scouting report on the linebackers you play with: Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan.

CG: Malcolm is a little bit of me and a little bit of Mike. Mike is legitimate 4.3. That's unheard of as a linebacker. He's got long strides. Taylor is the fastest guy on the team but Mike could race all our running backs and probably beat them. Malcolm is very heady. He's got a nose for the ball. But he's got his brother in him [former USC and current NY Giants receiver Steve Smith] -- he's got receiver-like feet. And he's fast. He runs a 4.4. He's smart and has moxie and is poised, but he also packs a punch. The guy can hit. Those two guys flanking me make me so much faster. I'm like Mr. 4.8, but I've got it up here [Galippo taps his head]. We help each other out a lot.

So you Smith and Morgan: Let's come up with a nickname. You're not just the no-name guys, right?

CG: We can let other people come up with that. We've got such great coaches that we'd be crazy not to do what they say. As long as we do what they say, we're good enough athletes that, if we stick with the game plan, we can shut anybody down.

That's not very catchy.

CG: [Laughs]

Barkley vs. the Horseshoe: Who wins?

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
1:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


The true freshman stepped into the huddle. He told his teammates not to worry. He would lead them to victory in a hostile environment.
Brad Schloss/Icon SMI
Matt Barkley faces a true test going into the Horseshoe for his first start on the road.

And Tennessee lineman Jason Layman turned to Peyton Manning and told him to "Shut up and call the play."

It's not easy being a true freshman quarterback for many reasons, including veteran teammates who couldn't care less about a scintillating prep pedigree.

USC guard Jeff Byers is a 24-year-old, sixth-year senior. He's the leader of a veteran offensive line that might be the nation's best unit. He's seen just about everything while blocking for three different quarterbacks who are now in the NFL.

Nonetheless, if true freshman Matt Barkley gave him an earful about a blown assignment, he said he'd take it without complaint.

"Oh yeah, because the kid is good," Byers said. "But I don't think he'd be one of the guys who would say that. He'd be one who'd slap you on the butt and say, 'Let's go get 'em. We all make mistakes.'"

And what about Barkley making his first road start inside the unfriendly confines of Ohio Stadium, aka the Horseshoe?

"I think he'll thrive in those kinds of places because he's such a great competitor," Byers said.

There are two powerful, competing forces at work amid the pregame hype for No. 3 USC's visit to No. 8 Ohio State.

One camp in L.A. provides a collective shoulder shrug when asked about the combination of Barkley and infamous atmosphere of the Horseshoe, where the Buckeyes are 24-1 in nonconference games under coach Jim Tressel, the lone defeat coming in 2005 to eventual national champion Texas.

Barkley has repeatedly said he's not worried, and even added a "bring it on" after practice Tuesday, which might help turn the volume of the 102,000 on hand up another notch from 11 to 12.

The other force counters that Barkley is still a true freshman -- he turned 19 this week -- and that he's never played in an environment like the Horseshoe and that no matter how poised he may be, that environment will at least distract him even if he's not intimidated.

And distracted quarterbacks tend to make mistakes, particularly young ones.

USC coach Pete Carroll has fielded the question 100 different ways since the Trojans stomped San Jose State 56-3 in the opener, and the media haven't worn down his faith that Barkley will not only be fine but will excel because of the environment.

"I would think he's going to have fun with it and he's going to be excited to see what it looks like to be in an opponent's stadium of that stature and all," Carroll said. "And then he's going to go play. I don't think it will matter to him at all. That's just the way he's been and how he's handled things and he has such confidence and such comfort in his own skin. That will be extended into the setting as well."

New USC starting quarterbacks have good track records in big, early-season nonconference road games under Carroll. Matt Leinart was a sophomore when the Trojans whipped No. 6 Auburn 23-0. Junior John David Booty was brilliant -- completing 24 of 35 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions -- when the Trojans bludgeoned Arkansas 50-14.

But neither was a true freshman.

Of course, the USC offense isn't only about Barkley. Far from it. Nine starters are back from 2008, and there's depth at every position.

"If you threw a freshman quarterback in there and everyone else was a rookie, it would be frightening," Tressel said. "But the beauty that Pete Carroll has there with Matt Barkley being in the game is that the offensive line is perfectly choreographed and all those folks he's got around him -- handing it to and throwing it to and protecting him and so forth -- that is as good of a situation as you can have."

Moreover, USC contends that Barkley is a true freshman in title only.

Receiver Damian Williams is tight with Aaron Corp, who lost the starting job to Barkley. But Williams said he knew Barkley was special early in spring practices, which Barkley participated in after graduating early from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

"He was making throws that I didn't think high school quarterbacks were capable of making," Williams said.

Barkley also immediately asserted himself in the huddle against San Jose State, even when the offense sputtered in the first quarter.

"He came to the huddle calm and collected ... he gave us a couple of pep talks in the huddle," running back Joe McKnight said.

Byers was particularly impressed by how quickly Barkley put bad plays behind him, including the lone sack the Trojans surrendered.

"I thought that was a defining moment," Byers said. "I loved how he was in the huddle. More important than how he played -- his numbers -- was just how he handled himself and controlled the offense and led us."

Ah, but that competing force just smirks. To it, all this feels like a pep talk for a young man who is about to enter the belly of the beast.

A Horseshoe? On the Buckeyes side of things, Ohio Stadium is grinning as it anticipates the arrival of Matt Barkley.

Blogger debate: USC-Ohio State

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
9:30
AM ET
AP Photo
Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller


All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?

Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.

As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?

AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.

Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?

(Read full post)

McKnight has emerged as USC's No. 1 running back

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
6:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- There's still an "OR" to the right of Joe McKnight's name on the USC depth chart, but it's mostly a wink at the Trojans' old way of doing things at running back.

McKnight is the Trojans' starting running back. His 14 carries against San Jose State were twice as many as any other Trojans running back, and it will be a surprise if he doesn't start at Ohio State on Saturday.
 
 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 Joe McKnight's workload against the Spartans indicates he's the Trojans' starting running back.
Allen Bradford might offer a power option off the bench. And Stafon Johnson might be the man near the goal line.

But McKnight is clearly 1A, whether coach Pete Carroll, who has long defended his backfield-by-committee approach, is explicit about it or not.

"We came out of camp with the thought that we wanted to really work Joe and see if we couldn't keep him in the game and get him more used to playing on a more regular basis and not spot play him so much and see if that wouldn't position him to make some more big plays," Carroll said after the Trojans 56-3 victory over the Spartans.

Carroll was even more vague during his Tuesday press conference when asked about the rotation.

"I don't know what that rotation was [against San Jose State] -- it was everybody played," Carroll said. "But we're going in with the same idea as we had last week. Joe, and you'll see a lot of guys play."

However the "rotation" is described, it worked against the Spartans. McKnight had 145 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown jaunt, and the Trojans finished with 354 yards rushing.

That long touchdown run was even punctuated by a flip into the endzone, which looked a lot like the guy McKnight grew up admiring: Reggie Bush.

McKnight told reporters he was really trippin' on that run.

When McKnight saw a terminally unhip media giving him knowing nods, he expanded.

"I was tripping ... I was falling," he clarified. "I didn't want to fall on the 1-yard line."

McKnight played the first two series before yielding to Bradford, but it's more likely McKnight went to the sidelines because he fumbled, an issue that has sprung up a few times during his career.

McKnight, however, returned for the next two possessions.

McKnight said knowing he'll get a handful of carries in sequence -- instead of a few touches here and there -- helps him fit into the flow of the game.

"It's always good to get into a rhythm in the game," he said. "You always want to get that home run hit, but you've got to be focused and get five yards here, five yards there. It will open up for you."

If there's a reason for the philosophy shift, which is subtle but clear, it's due to new playcaller Jeremy Bates, who intimated during the preseason that he wasn't a fan of not establishing a clear pecking order at the position.

Johnson finished with six rushes for 27 yards with two touchdowns. Bradford had four carries for 53 yards, most of which came on a 43-yard scoring run. Marc Tyler and C.J. Gable took over the position when the result was out of hand, combining for 109 yards on 12 carries.

Gable was the official starter in 12 games last year, so his status has slipped the most. Johnson led the Trojans with 138 carries for 728 yards in 2008.

Whoever runs the ball, he will benefit from an offensive line that doesn't miss many assignments and has a lot of experience with zone blocking. USC running backs were stopped for a loss only once -- Gable for minus-3 yards late in the game.

That said, the Ohio State defensive line is experienced and talented. It welcomes back seven of its top eight players from last season, and the unit has combined for 78 career starts.

McKnight will get first crack. But, if he's not effective, there still will be other appealing options.

Is Pryor the second coming of Young?

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- He's 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. And he's got a cannon for an arm.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a special athlete playing in a special game, and it's hard not to recall that the last time that combination came together opposite USC, the Trojans saw Vince Young break their hearts and end their bid for a third consecutive national championship.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Terrelle Pryor can beat defenses with his arm or his legs.

That's why, as much as anything, USC's visit to Ohio State on Saturday likely comes down to how the Trojans rebuilt defense contends with Pryor, who is 10-1 as the Buckeyes starter and was preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

"This is a very, very unusual athlete to be this tall and this fast and have a great arm," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I think you'll see he's not just a runner. He's working hard to be an all-around quarterback. He's showing that."

Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Buckeyes season-opening win over Navy. He also ran for 30 yards on six carries with a touchdown.

Last year, Pryor transformed from the nation's consensus top recruit to the Buckeyes' starter, much like Matt Barkley is doing this fall for USC.

In last year's game in the Coliseum, Pryor alternated with senior Todd Boeckman, rushing for 40 yards and completing 7 of 9 passes. He became the full-time starter thereafter.

"He's still not a wily veteran by any means," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He understands the game much, much better. I think he knows more of why he's doing what he's doing and why we're doing what we're doing and why the defense does what they do and all of those things."

While observers from both sides call Pryor a complete quarterback -- not just an athlete taking the snap -- the aspects of his game that are hardest to contend with are his speed and improvisational ability.

"I've always said that the most difficult aspect of defending an opponent is when they have a quarterback that can run and run on plays that aren't designed to be quarterback running plays," Carroll said. "When a pass starts and it breaks down and it takes off, it becomes a sweep or a draw or a scramble situation. It's just so out of the normal structure, that, you know, anything can happen. So that's an X factor that a running quarterback presents."

The theme for the USC defense: Tackle, tackle, tackle.

And with prejudice.

"You've really got to key on your up-field shoulder and rely on your technique with a running quarterback like that," end Everson Griffen said. "We've got to swarm as a team and hit him hard every time he runs. Hit him hard -- make it harder for him, not as fun."

Griffen said the defense expects to see more speed option and designed runs with Pryor. Because the Buckeyes are playing in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium -- "The Horseshoe" -- it will be easy for Pryor to check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage if he thinks he sees a vulnerability in the Trojans' defense.

So it will be a chess match.

The Trojans might assign a spy for Pryor. It certainly will try to limit his running lanes. But the likelihood is Pryor will make plays with his feet. It's a matter of limiting them, which the Trojans failed to do with Young.

"A really good runner like Terrelle Pryor can go where he wants to go," Carroll said. "You can say you're going to keep him in the pocket and then he just scoots up and gets out again. He's really got a knack for escaping. You can holler at guys for not containing, but he just dips and goes. He's really good at it and he's really fast. The thing you hope you do is when you get your chances you tackle him because he breaks a lot of tackles. Guys drip off him a lot. He doesn't run over you, he just runs. He's fast and really strong and really big and he's difficult to get down. When he wants to go, he goes."

And there's always the issue of overcompensating. If Pryor breaks contain and two or three Trojans shirk their responsibilities in pursuit, then Pryor might be able to make a play downfield.

"You play the offense -- you don't want to look at it as playing Terrell Pryor," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "You want to look at it as playing the Ohio State offense."

That said, Young accounted for 467 of Texas' 556 total yards in the Longhorns' nail-biting victory in the BCS title game.

So there's no other way to say it: USC's defense has a Pryor engagement on Saturday.

USC's Thomas and Casey still sick

September, 8, 2009
9/08/09
4:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- Two USC defensive starters are expected to miss practice Tuesday due to illness.

Coach Pete Carroll said at his weekly press conference they he expects defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback Kevin Thomas to "hopefully" be ready by Wednesday, which might be necessary for them to play at Ohio State on Saturday.

The Trojans fly to Columbus Thursday night.

USC enjoys taking its big show on the road

September, 8, 2009
9/08/09
11:44
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Maybe USC has trouble in the "O" states?

Hey, it's a reach to note that the mighty Trojans colossus has lost three in a row in the state of Oregon and apply it to this weekend's marquee tilt at Ohio State, but at least it's a chink in the armor for a program that hasn't lost a nonconference road game since early 2002, Pete Carroll's second season at Troy.
Charles Baus/Icon SMI
USC coach Pete Carroll’s Trojans aren’t afraid to take it on the road.

While Ohio State fans believe 105,000 united crazies inside the Horseshoe shouting down the Trojans and their true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley might make a difference, USC has carefully cultivated a culture that embraces taking its show on the road.

When USC walks into the room, every one knows it. Folks can't help but stare. And the Trojans love being looked at.

"I love it -- the noise, everybody going against you and you get the chance to quiet them down," running back Joe McKnight said. "It's fun. Any time we go somewhere, people want to see what USC is about. They want to prove to the world that USC can be beat."

USC has won its last three at Notre Dame, including the infamous "Bush push" in 2005. Auburn was thinking national championship in 2003 before the Trojans manhandled them 23-zip, with Matt Leinart making his first career start. Arkansas talked endlessly about taking vengeance for a 70-17 beatdown in 2005 only to leave their fans gaping in a 50-14 throttling the following season in John David Booty's debut. Nebraska, Virginia, Colorado, BYU and Virginia Tech also have been conquered by Trojan visitors.

That success might explain why USC doesn't get invited to party any more in certain areas of the country.

"I think there is a culture you can cultivate -- there's a whole mindset," Carroll said of playing on the road. "It doesn't just start with the day you're on game week [before going] on the road.It's something you built over a long period of time. It's your attitude and how you handle all games, not just road games."

Still, the long airplane ride, the foreign environment -- hotels, field, locker room, etc. -- all break a routine. Moreover, even if hostile faces don't make a team queasy, the noise is inconvenient no matter what, particularly for a visiting offense.

And deafening noise will be new for Barkley. No matter how cool he is, he's never experienced what he will experience on Saturday. This will be the first time he will play a game without being able to hear or be heard much of the time.

"That will be the first time he'll ever hear [noise] of that magnitude," Carroll admitted.

Nonetheless, Barkley only offers a pleasant shrug. Will it be loud? Sure. He'll adjust.

"I don't think that will make a difference," Barkley said after his cool-as-a-cucumber debut against San Jose State. "We'll do what we do best -- focus on ourselves throughout the week, focus on how we can better. You have to learn to push that stuff out. The atmosphere is probably going to be nuts. I probably don't even know how crazy it's gong to be. That won't faze me."

USC will practice with extra noise all week. It will work on various nonverbal signals to share audibles and information. While the Trojans defense is young, Barkley will be surrounded by veteran players on offense.

If any Trojan is worried about the notorious atmosphere in the Horseshoe for a night game, he isn't letting on.

"It's just noise," safety Taylor Mays said. "I like it. I like hearing it and then hearing it get quiet."

USC's O'Dowd will have to win his job back

September, 7, 2009
9/07/09
10:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- This is how USC is different: The questionable health of an All-American center is greeted with a shrug even before a marquee game with national championship implications.

Kristofer O'Dowd practiced Monday for the first time since dislocating his knee cap three weeks ago, but there's no rush to push him back into the starting lineup Saturday when the Trojans visit Ohio State.

"We won't play him unless we feel like we're going to be fine," coach Pete Carroll said. "We're not going to play Kris just to play him. We're going to play him because we feel right about him and he's all right ... We're fine with the guys we have."

With O'Dowd out last weekend against San Jose State, sixth-year senior Jeff Byers moved over to center from guard and Butch Lewis and Alex Parsons played guard. Both Lewis and Parsons started last year -- Lewis at right tackle -- so the drop-off was minimal.

The Trojans rushed for 342 yards against the Spartans.

Moreover, while Carroll didn't say this, true freshman Matt Barkley made his surge to be the starting quarterback while taking snaps exclusively from Byers, so there is some issue of continuity.

O'Dowd, of course, is having none of that.

"I'm definitely going to be back for this game," he said. "I'm not going to settle for second string. That's not what I'm shooting for."

So USC's competition Tuesday is going to be just that for O'Dowd -- he's got to compete, prove his knee is 100 percent and win his job back.

In other injury news, the Trojans got one D-lineman back while another was missing.

Tackle Jurrell Casey missed practice because he was ill, while Averell Spicer practiced after sitting out the San Jose State game with a sprained ankle.

"He looked pretty good," Carroll said.

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