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Pass Defense Still a Concern

October 06, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC returned to its winning ways against Arizona State, then returned home with plenty of reasons to feel optimistic.

Quarterback Matt Leinart further entrenched himself as the Trojans' leader with a gutsy second-half comeback from injury. Freshman tailback LenDale White broke through with the best rushing day by a true freshman in USC history. And the Trojans evoked memories of 2002 by scoring 27 unanswered points and dominating the fourth quarter.

The 37-17 victory improved the Trojans' record to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference. It also helped USC move up to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll on Sunday.

But with seven regular-season games remaining, including six in the Pac-10, pass defense remains a weak spot.

After giving up 326 passing yards in its triple-overtime loss at California, USC went into the Arizona State game surrendering a Pac-10 worst 289.8 yards a game. The Trojans did nothing to improve their standing by allowing Sun Devil quarterback Andrew Walter to pass for 305 yards.

USC clamped down in the second half when the defensive line pressured Walter, but the Trojans still gave up more than 300 passing yards for the fourth consecutive game.

"I'm not fired up about where it is right now," USC Coach Pete Carroll said on Sunday. "I think it can get a lot better."

Carroll, however, said there would be no personnel changes in the secondary when the Trojans play Stanford on Saturday.

He also said that no decisions have been made in regard to the tailback spot and whether White would supplant sophomore Hershel Dennis as the starter.

Leinart, who sustained a sprained ankle and bruised knee early in the second quarter, received medical treatment Sunday at USC. The redshirt sophomore, who suffered a groin strain and bruised knee against Cal, is expected to play against Stanford. He probably will follow a regimen similar to last week, when he sat out Monday's practice and eased into activity as game day drew nearer.

"We'll just take it one day at a time and see what happens," said Carroll, who added that coaches had not yet discussed whether they would shuffle back-ups Matt Cassel, Brandon Hance and John David Booty.

Cassel played almost the entire second quarter after Leinart was injured, but Hance was warming up to start the second half before Leinart returned.

Carroll was pleased with the play of sophomore fullback Brandon Hancock, who had two receptions for 42 yards. Hancock caught a short pass late in the third quarter and sprinted to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown that put USC ahead to stay.

"There aren't many fullbacks that can run like that," Carroll said. "That will be a big factor for us."

USC defeated the Sun Devils without middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and right tackle Winston Justice, both of whom suffered ankle sprains against Cal. Carroll said each would be evaluated this week.

Junior Daniel Urquhart started in place of Tatupu and responded with a team-best 10 tackles. "There were a lot of things that I could have done a lot better," Urquhart said. "But I was happy to get the chance to be out there and help us win."

Junior John Drake started in place of Justice and helped White run for 140 yards in 21 carries. White's yardage total eclipsed the 136 yards that Charles White rushed for as a true freshman in game against Stanford in 1976.

"I had a great time," Drake said. "For SC offensive linemen, there is a standard to live up to, and I think we did that."

Drake got some relief from senior Eric Torres, who played for the first time since breaking his left ankle in the Orange Bowl against Iowa.

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