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Game faces on

USC has efficient, if not spectacular, scrimmage in preparation for opener

August 22, 2008|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Nothing spectacularly great. Nothing spectacularly bad.

USC's final training camp scrimmage at the Coliseum was a mostly staid affair, which suited Trojans players and coaches just fine.

"I thought, all in all, this was a terrific day for us," Coach Pete Carroll said Thursday after the starters outlasted the reserves, 28-7.

The preternaturally positive Carroll and his hyper-efficiency-conscious offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, had reason to feel satisfied. The Trojans completed their "mock-game" with a performance that lacked sizzle but also was nearly devoid of glaring mistakes.

With the season opener at Virginia just over a week away, both coaches noted that quarterbacks Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain did not commit a turnover and that no one got hurt in the 78-play controlled scrimmage.

The Trojans still need to clean up penalties (eight were called against the starters) and eliminate fumbles by tight ends (two), but they appear to have solved many of the problems that plagued them in their first two scrimmages.

"Now we're into game prep, so it's going to be kind of cool to turn our focus to that," said Carroll, whose team will practice today and then conclude training camp Saturday.

It appears more and more likely that the Trojans will begin preparations for Virginia with starting quarterback Mark Sanchez in the fold.

Two weeks after dislocating his left kneecap, Sanchez went through pregame one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills, and then watched Corp and Mustain compete for what now looks to be a backup role. He is expected to take part in a full practice Monday.

Nevertheless, Corp and Mustain knew that Sarkisian was focusing on game-management skills and both had their moments directing the first-team offense. Perhaps more important, neither quarterback had a pass intercepted or fumbled a snap.

Corp, who took all of the first-team snaps in practice Wednesday, started Thursday. The redshirt freshman completed eight of 10 passes for 85 yards and led a scoring drive behind an offensive line that showed improved protection from the last scrimmage.

Asked if he thought he had earned a start if Sanchez could not play in the opener, or the No. 2 spot if Sanchez returns, Corp said, "I really don't know. I'm not going to say anything until the coaches give me that nod."

Mustain looked particularly sharp on several rollout passes and acknowledged that he was playing with a sense of urgency. The sophomore transfer from Arkansas completed 10 of 14 for 92 yards and led two touchdown drives, including one that ended with a short scoring pass to fullback Adam Goodman.

"It wasn't outstanding one way or the other, but I'll take that," Mustain said of his performance.

USC's starting defense was without tackle Fili Moala (back) and cornerbacks Cary Harris (shoulder) and Shareece Wright (groin). Defensive coordinator Nick Holt also limited linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing.

But the unit still intercepted two passes, including one that was tipped by defensive end Kyle Moore and then caught in the end zone for a touchdown by defensive end Everson Griffen.

After the scrimmage, Carroll said the mock-game approach had once again benefited a team that is expected to challenge for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

The Trojans had spent Wednesday night in a hotel near LAX, going through the same schedule of meetings they follow before every home game. Their arrival at the stadium on Thursday, their entry into it and their warmup before the scrimmage also were timed to mimic the game-day experience.

"All the guys that see this for the first time, it's somewhat of an eye-opening experience at how serious we are about this preparation process," Carroll said. "All of that worked out great."

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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