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USC REPORT

Leinart, Justice and Tatupu Miss Practice

September 30, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

The mental anguish over losing to California has subsided, but USC returned to practice Monday without three starters who were inactive or absent because of physical problems that could force them to miss Saturday's game at Arizona State.

Quarterback Matt Leinart did not practice because of a sprained ligament in his left knee and a slight groin strain, both suffered during the 34-31 triple-overtime defeat at Cal. Leinart, however, said he intended to play against the Sun Devils.

"I'm going to practice [today] and see how I feel, but I'll be ready to go," Leinart said.

Coach Pete Carroll said he was not certain about Leinart's status, and that junior Matt Cassel would start if Leinart could not play or was hindered by the injuries.

"I'm going to prepare like I'm going to start," Cassel said. "I have to be mentally ready and physically ready if it happens that way."

Offensive tackle Winston Justice did not practice and wore a protective boot for a right ankle sprain. Carroll said Justice would be "challenged to get back" for the Arizona State game, but Justice said he hoped to return to practice Wednesday.

"It's a little bit sore, but not that bad," Justice said. "I've never had a sprained ankle before."

Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu did not attend practice because he was having an MRI exam for a high right ankle sprain.

Junior John Drake and senior Eric Torres worked in Justice's spot. Redshirt junior Daniel Urquhart is expected to start in place of Tatupu.

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Carroll said no decision had been made about changing the tailback rotation after Hershel Dennis, Reggie Bush and LenDale White totaled 66 yards in 20 carries against Cal. Carroll said his team should run the ball about 35 times a game.

"Our blocking ... was not the focal point of not running the ball well," Carroll said. "My focus right now is to get our running backs to hit things consistently and take advantage of the opportunities and space that [are] there."

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Offensive coordinator Norm Chow is reportedly among the top candidates to replace John Mackovic, who was fired as Arizona's coach on Sunday.

Chow said he had not been contacted by Arizona officials and did not expect to be during the season. Asked if he would be interested in the job, Chow said, "No. Not right now."

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Gregg Guenther, USC's 6-foot-8 tight end, and 6-5 wide receiver Mike Williams were utilized on the field-goal block unit late in the game against Cal.

Guenther blocked a 29-yard attempt in the first overtime, and Williams nearly blocked the game-winning kick. Carroll, however, said he was not planning to make them fixtures of the unit.

"We worked at it over the bye [week] and that's one experiment that worked," he said. "Right now that's still a specialty-case situation."

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