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USC REPORT

Leinart Tightens Grip on Top Spot

August 13, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Throughout the summer and the first week of training camp, Matt Leinart reminded himself -- and was told by others -- that USC's starting quarterback job was his to lose.

Leinart showed Tuesday that he has no intention of letting his opportunity slip away. The 6-foot-5 sophomore left-hander was efficient and mostly mistake-free during an 80-play scrimmage that kept him on track to start the Aug. 30 opener at Auburn.

"I was playing smart," said Leinart, who completed 11 of 15 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. "I didn't force anything. I threw the ball away when I needed to and completed passes when I needed to and kept the offense moving."

Coach Pete Carroll said the competition at quarterback remains open, but Leinart put some distance between himself and junior transfer Brandon Hance, junior Matt Cassel and freshman John David Booty, who did not participate for the third day in a row because of back soreness.

Carroll, in his third season at USC, described it as Leinart's best day "by far" since he took over as coach. Freshmen tailbacks Reggie Bush (five carries for 28 yards), LenDale White (seven for 10 yards and a touchdown) and Chauncey Washington (five for 31 yards) also continued to impress.

Many returning starters on offense and defense took limited snaps, but Carroll was pleased by the result.

"We got to see young running backs go and our quarterback played well -- those are our two big issues right now," Carroll said.

Hance alternated the most with Leinart and completed six of eight passes for 28 yards. But he was disappointed that he did not make more plays.

"Any time you get in a scrimmage-type environment, it's a real good opportunity to prove yourself.... I didn't feel like I was able to accomplish that today," he said.

Cassel said he was frustrated by his limited opportunity.

"If it's a closed deal then just say it's a closed deal," said Cassel, who completed all six of his passes for 53 yards.

Sophomore Billy Hart (four of four for 42 yards) and freshman Michael McDonald (two of two for 22 yards) threw touchdown passes to freshman receiver Steve Smith, who had five receptions for 57 yards after missing several days because of hamstring problems.

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Sophomore fullback Brandon Hancock appears recovered from the wrist injury that forced him to miss spring practice.

Hancock caught four passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.

"My main goal right now is to improve my blocking ability, because it's my weakest attribute," he said. "Once I solidify that, hopefully that will open the door for me to do other things in the offense as well."

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Kicker Ryan Killeen was absent to attend a funeral. Freshman Mario Danelo converted two of three extra-point kicks and missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. "[The kicking game] is still an issue for us -- we're not doing well," Carroll said.... Freshman linebacker Thomas Williams made eight tackles and sophomore lineman Frostee Rucker had five.... Freshman safety Terrell Thomas suffered a shoulder injury during the scrimmage.... Senior defensive end Omar Nazel and senior offensive linemen Jacob Rogers and Lenny Vandermade were among starters who did not participate because of soreness or injuries.... Booty said he expects to resume practicing today.

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