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Grootegoed Suffers Broken Leg

November 11, 2001|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERKELEY — USC's victory at California on Saturday was tempered by the loss of one of the team's best defensive players.

In the second quarter, linebacker Matt Grootegoed darted into the Cal backfield and dived at tailback Terrell Williams. As Williams spun away, Grootegoed was left on the ground with a broken bone in his lower right leg.

"Our legs kind of hit," he said shortly before leaving the stadium on crutches. "I knew right away that something was really wrong."

USC trainer Russ Romano said the break was similar to one suspended receiver Marcell Allmond suffered last season. The bone should heal in three months, meaning Grootegoed could return for spring practice, but that was of little solace to the redshirt freshman. "It's extremely disappointing," he said. "Especially with UCLA coming up."

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It was a day of firsts for reserve quarterback Matt Cassel.

Impatient to get his college career started, the redshirt freshman has played special teams and receiver this season. Against Cal, he caught his first pass on a 12-yard out pattern in the first quarter.

That was only the start. Just before halftime, Cassel threw a downfield block on tailback Chris Howard's 15-yard touchdown run, then tackled the returner on the ensuing kickoff. And though he sprained his ankle on that play, he replaced Carson Palmer in the fourth quarter.

On his first drive at quarterback, Cassel ran for 20 yards and completed a five-yard pass while guiding the Trojans to a touchdown.

"[The ankle] was stiff," he said. "But I couldn't let go of an opportunity like that."

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Cal Coach Tom Holmoe appeared angry when USC, leading, 28-7, ran a fake field goal for a touchdown in the third quarter. Said USC Coach Pete Carroll: "Honestly, when I play against my friends, I want to beat them as bad as I can." ... With Grootegoed injured, the Trojans could not afford to experiment much with linebacker Frank Strong at tailback. Strong rushed five times for six yards....Receiver Keary Colbert suffered an ankle injury. Tackle Jacob Rogers left the game because of an elbow injury from last week.

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