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ROSE BOWL | USC VS. TEXAS | REPORT

They're All Wet for This Practice

January 01, 2006|Gary Klein and Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writers

The national weather service predicts Wednesday will be partly cloudy for the Rose Bowl game between top-ranked USC and second-ranked Texas.

Still, USC's coaches and most of its players welcomed the chance to practice Saturday in a downpour.

"This is a great opportunity for us in the case the weather should switch," Coach Pete Carroll said. "You can't get what it's like unless you're out there."

Carroll was especially pleased that the offense did not turn the ball over once during team drills, which were conducted in an area with artificial turf.

"To get through all that slop and do that takes excellent concentration and focus," he said.

Practices in the rain are becoming something of a bowl-game tradition for the Trojans, who reveled in a rainstorm last year in Florida before demolishing Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

Offensive tackle Winston Justice said Saturday's rain broke up the monotony.

"Sometimes practices get boring," Justice said. "Having rain adds something new to it and gets all the guys hyped up."

Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush was among the most animated players on the field.

"If you see someone like that who's in the spotlight and working hard and still not having a big head and coming to work every day, it makes you want to play harder for the guy," linebacker Collin Ashton said. "People were getting crazy out there. There's nothing better than that."

Offensive tackle Sam Baker could have done without the rain.

"My knee brace is falling everywhere," Baker said. "My shorts, everything is falling around. It's not fun."

The Rose Bowl field was covered with a tarp Friday night.

USC players were scheduled to spend New Year's Eve at a team party in their hotel.

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It wasn't too long ago that critics of Vince Young were calling for him to give up his role as quarterback and move to wide receiver.

Young showed this year that quarterback is indeed his proper position by leading the nation with a 168.6 passer rating during the regular season and shedding his reputation as a highlight-reel scrambler who couldn't pass well.

"I always felt I was a great quarterback," Young said. "I kind of got more respect now. They're saying 'He is a quarterback, he shouldn't be a receiver.' "

Young ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, but his passer rating last year was 128.4, not even in the top 50 nationally. He passed for 1,849 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

This year, he has passed for 2,769 yards -- nearly as many as the 3,004 he had in his first two seasons -- with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Young credits the turnaround to long hours in the film room over the summer with offensive coordinator Greg Davis learning passing schemes and how to read defenses.

Young still has game-breaking running ability -- he leads Texas with 850 yards rushing -- but has become much more viable as a double threat.

"Probably the biggest jump he made from his sophomore year to his junior year is how many things he does before the ball is snapped that help him make quicker decisions once the ball is snapped," Davis said.

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A California Highway Patrolman escorting the Texas bus to Lawry's for the Beef Bowl was struck by a car and hospitalized Friday night, a Beverly Hills Police spokesperson said.

Officer Ernesto Amaya, riding a motorcycle, was clipped by a 2001 Cadillac two blocks from the restaurant. He was transported to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, treated for minor injuries and released.

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ESPN has been running a feature comparing USC to some of the greatest college teams of all time. At least one Texas player said he hasn't seen any of it, so he isn't concerned about being disrespected.

"I don't pay too much attention to the media," receiver Billy Pittman said. "I watch cartoons. I don't see [USC] on the Cartoon Network."

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