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Sacks Are His Bag

Arizona State's Suggs has a shot at NCAA unofficial record and Trojans' Palmer is the next obstacle standing in his way.

November 16, 2002|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs leads the nation in sacks. Also, apparently, in horsepower and fuel consumption.

"He plays with a very big motor," USC Coach Pete Carroll said.

Said Arizona State Coach Dirk Koetter, "He's got a great motor that never stops running."

Relentlessly rushing passers in overdrive, Suggs is a sack machine. The 6-foot-3, 252-pound junior has recorded an NCAA-record 19 1/2 of them this season. But because the NCAA did not recognize sacks as an official statistic until 2000, Suggs is still chasing the unofficial record of 24 1/2 set by Pittsburgh's Zeke Gadson in 1987.

USC will try to stymie Suggs' pursuit of the mark -- and quarterback Carson Palmer -- when the eighth-ranked Trojans play Arizona State in a Pacific 10 Conference game today at the Coliseum.

"The faster you go, the more the other team is going to have to do to stop you," Suggs said. "I want to be like the LaVar Arringtons and the Julius Peppers. Even if they don't have a good game statistically, people watch them in the stadium or at home on TV and say, 'That guy never takes a play off.' "

Suggs presents USC tackles Jacob Rogers and Winston Justice with their biggest challenge of the season. The Trojans have given up only 18 sacks, the second-lowest total in the conference.

"He uses his speed to get up the field and beats guys around the corner," said Rogers, a 6-6, 305-pound junior. "He catches people jumping out, and then he goes inside. He does a good job of taking advantage of what you give him."

Justice worked overtime this week preparing for Suggs, also known as T-Rex. Justice, a 6-6, 305-pound freshman, studied film and corralled defensive end Kenechi Udeze after practice for extra reps.

"I think I'll do well and can make a little name for myself by keeping him out of the backfield," Justice said. "That's my goal for the week."

Suggs arrived at Arizona State in 2000 hoping to start plays in the backfield rather than finishing them there. He'd rushed for more than 2,200 yards and had scored 26 touchdowns as a senior running back at Hamilton High in Chandler, Ariz., but was buried on the depth chart in Tempe.

Suggs switched to defensive end and made an immediate impact, recording 10 sacks as a freshman. Last year, he made 18 tackles for losses, including 10 more sacks.

Suggs has four or more sacks in a game twice this season, including a career-best 4 1/2 against Washington on Oct. 19. He leads the conference with 26 tackles for losses, two shy of the Pac-10 record set by Ron George of Stanford in 1990.

"I don't know how fast he is, but it's too fast," Carroll said. "You can double him and chip him and do all the tricks and he keeps coming."

Suggs sacked Palmer twice last season while making a season-best five tackles for losses, but USC won, 48-17, ending a four-game losing streak.

Palmer has vaulted into consideration for the Heisman Trophy by passing for 1,113 yards and 13 touchdowns in the last three games. He said he couldn't worry solely about Suggs when facing the Pac-10's fifth-best defense.

"He's a great player, but as a defensive lineman he can't take over the game like [USC safety] Troy Polamalu can," Palmer said. "I'll make sure I know where he is and make sure we're doing the right stuff to take care of him, but he's not in my mind-set going into every play. I'm not going out of my way to change my game for him."

Suggs said there would be no bull's-eye on Palmer.

"I get more hyped by how good the teams are, not the individual players," Suggs said. "This USC team is great and there is not a better place than the Coliseum for college football.

"It's a great stage to show what you can do."

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