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Bill Plaschke

Hands-On Approach Is Heaven-Sent for USC

January 03, 2005|Bill Plaschke

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — If USC wins the Orange Bowl, it will be on an ankle and a prayer.

That became official Sunday when LenDale White said that his sprained right ankle had been healed by treatment that was, well, heavenly.

"A miracle," he said.

It will be a miracle if any Oklahoma players believe it, but they will have to tackle it, so they might want to grab a pew and pay attention.

The event occurred Thursday in the swimming pool at the team hotel. A group of players were questioning White about the injury that had kept him off the field for nearly a month.

Into the bunch swam Glena Carroll, wife of Coach Pete Carroll.

According to White, she summoned him to the side and asked him to stick his ankle into the water.

"She put her hands on it and prayed over it," he said.

And then?

"The next day, I woke up and the ankle felt better than it had for days."

For real?

"It's crazy, but I went out the next day and it didn't hurt."

Glena Carroll?

"She's probably my guardian angel."

Pete Carroll says that makes two of them. Not that he's completely buying the idea that his wife has certain powers, but ...

"All I know is, I'm very rarely sick," he said with a grin.

No matter what one believes, Glena Carroll certainly had the right idea last week, conveying with her hands a truth that many are uncomfortable speaking.

LenDale White may be the Trojans' most important player in this game.

He is the pull cord on Reggie Bush's engine.

He is the man in Matt Leinart's Heisman.

He is the default setting on Norm Chow's computer.

"If our offense was a courtroom," said tackle John Drake, "LenDale White would be the gavel."

The second question in the first news conference of the week was about White, posed to Pete Carroll, who was asked about the effect of White's possible absence.

"You'll get to see a lot more of Reggie Bush basically," Carroll said. "I don't know that that's a bad thing for us."

He smiled, and everyone chuckled, but, on the contrary, it might indeed be a bad thing for them.

The Trojans need a punishing ground attack to keep Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson off the field.

But Bush has carried the ball more than 15 times once this season; White has done it seven times.

"White is their control back, that big body," said Oklahoma linebacker Lance Mitchell. "I haven't seen Bush carry that load."

The Trojans need to be able to sneak Bush around the field against the quick Oklahoma defense.

But without White running inside to keep it honest, that will be like trying to sneak an elephant into a circus.

"I hate to say it," said Mitchell, "but they really need that 1-2 punch."

Carroll announced Sunday night that Bush would be starting. But the announcement came after White's first full-speed practice. So even in the sideline darkness, one could read between the lines.

"This was the best I've felt in a long time," White said. "It was stinging a little bit, it's a little bit swollen, but come game time, I'll be ready."

So White will play, and that strong wind blowing outside your window last night was a Trojan nation sigh.

In the only game the Trojans have lost in two seasons, against California in overtime last year, White carried the ball only two times.

The next week against Arizona State, White carried the ball 21 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns and has been an important factor since.

He won't wow you, but he'll exhaust you. On a long, humid night like Tuesday, that might be more important.

For all of Bush's MVP heroics, the two men scored the same number of touchdowns -- 15.

"It's very important that he plays, it's critical," Drake said. "All the star power we have, it all comes back to him carrying the ball. He's the one that keeps it all honest.

"He's our honest guy."

He also is their attitude guy, the one unabashed about wearing a giant tattoo honoring his grandmother, the plain-speaking Trojan who could easily pass for a Sooner.

"He is the attack of our offensive line," Drake said. "He is our swagger."

That swagger was muted earlier this season against Washington State, the only other game White didn't start, when he was momentarily sidelined by leg injuries. He still wound up rushing for 77 yards and two touchdowns.

Then there was the game against Arizona, when White was complaining of a bad back. That time, he said, he was healed by the hands of a campus bus driver, and wound up rushing for 118 yards and three touchdowns.

"I'm very religious, I believe in that sort of thing," he said.

At this point, even the most cynical of Trojan fans will not argue.

Come Tuesday, LenDale White can be covered in hands, as long as they are not the mottled mitts of Oklahoma.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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