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Trojans Are Looking for Home Improvement

October 11, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Most USC students and alumni will not celebrate homecoming for three more weeks.

But Trojan football players are ahead of schedule.

When ninth-ranked USC plays Stanford tonight in a Pacific 10 Conference game at the Coliseum, it will be the Trojans' first home game in nearly a month.

USC extended its home winning streak to 11 games by defeating Hawaii on Sept. 13. The Trojans then had a bye before playing at California and Arizona State.

"It's going to be great to be back home," tailback LenDale White said. "It seems like we've been away from the Coliseum for forever."

Much has changed since the last time the Trojans played there.

In the Pac-10 opener at Cal, USC's 11-game winning streak ended and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and offensive tackle Winston Justice suffered high ankle sprains that kept both out of last week's victory over Arizona State. Neither will start against Stanford, which dealt the Trojans their last defeat at the Coliseum on Sept. 29, 2001.

The status of USC quarterback Matt Leinart also is uncertain.

The redshirt sophomore suffered a groin strain and bruised knee against Cal, but he started against Arizona State. Leinart left the game in the first half because of a high ankle sprain and a bruised knee, then came back and led the Trojans to a 37-17 victory that improved their record to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-10.

Leinart hobbled through practice this week but is scheduled to start. If Leinart cannot play or if he is reinjured or falters, freshman John David Booty could make his debut.

"I feel more comfortable every day," said Booty, who was elevated to No. 2 on the depth chart this week. "I'm hoping to carry that over to the game."

USC, averaging a conference-best 37.4 points a game, also hopes that White continues to run the way he did against Arizona State. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound freshman from Colorado utilized a powerful style to rush for 140 yards, the most by a true freshman in USC history.

Coach Pete Carroll said sophomore Hershel Dennis would continue to start at tailback, but White is expected to carry the load against a Stanford defense that ranks third in the nation against the run, surrendering only 56.3 yards a game.

Stanford (2-1, 0-1) defeated San Jose State, which ranks 101st in rushing offense among 117 Division I schools, and Brigham Young, which ranks 98th. The Cardinal, coming off its second bye, lost to Washington, 28-17, in its conference opener Sept. 27 at Seattle.

Second-year Coach Buddy Teevens has a young team that includes only 14 seniors and 14 juniors among 94 players.

"We were a little bit wide-eyed in the first game, not so much the second game and not so much the third, so they are getting acclimated, making progress," Teevens said.

The Cardinal, which gave up a Pac-10-worst 34.3 points a game last season, ranks third in the conference in scoring defense, giving up 17.3 points a game.

Quarterback Trent Edwards, a redshirt freshman who has passed for 462 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions, leads Stanford's offense. Fifth-year senior Chris Lewis, from Long Beach Poly High, is listed second on the depth chart. Sophomore Kyle Matter, who played at Newhall Hart High, also is available.

Senior wide receiver Luke Powell has caught 19 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns. Junior running back Kenneth Tolon averages 86.3 yards rushing a game.

USC ranks ninth in the nation in rushing defense, surrendering 71.2 yards a game. But the Trojans give up 292.8 yards passing, last in the Pac-10 and 109th nationally.

Carroll, however, was pleased with the defense's performance in the second half against Arizona State, when USC scored 27 unanswered points.

Last season, USC defeated Stanford, 49-17, at Palo Alto, ending a three-game losing streak against the Cardinal.

Because Stanford had a bye week to prepare for USC, Carroll anticipates some surprises.

"I'm sure that they are going to have new things prepared for us in an attempt to keep us off balance," Carroll said. "We're going to go in expecting the unexpected."

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