Joe McKnight is accustomed to making stops and starts while running with the football.
The sophomore tailback, however, has experienced an inordinate number of personal setbacks this season that have made the last four months a continuous series of restarts.
On Wednesday, McKnight returned from Louisiana and practiced after missing two days to attend his grandmother's funeral.
"It's just another thing for him to have to deal with and understand and put in some kind of perspective," Coach Pete Carroll said.
McKnight's season has been stunted from the beginning. During training camp in August, he was one of many Trojans stricken with what players and coaches described as "jock itch." He also suffered a broken finger when a teammate accidentally slammed a door on his hand, and a hyper-extended elbow during a scrimmage.
McKnight scored his only touchdown of the season on a pass reception in the opener against Virginia, but he was forced to leave the Ohio State game in September because of a migraine. In October he suffered a toe injury while rushing for a career-best 143 yards against Arizona State.
An aggravation of the toe injury prevented McKnight from playing in the Trojans' Nov. 1 game against Washington. Carroll, however, confirmed a report in the Daily News that, if healthy, McKnight would have been held out because of academic issues.
McKnight rushed for 51 yards in seven carries in last week's victory over California but fumbled in the fourth quarter after a spectacular run. Despite the setbacks, McKnight said he would continue to persevere by keeping a positive mind-set.
"It's been kind of frustrating," he said. "I just can't let it get the best of me."
As USC prepares for Saturday's game at Stanford, tight end Anthony McCoy hopes to repeat a noteworthy first he achieved against Cal.
McCoy caught a team-high four passes for 53 yards in the 17-3 win, the first time this season a tight end has led the Trojans in receptions.
"I got to showcase some of my ability so it was pretty fun," McCoy said. "It was different. I got the ball four times. That's not usually what happens."
Not this season, anyway.
In 2007, with wide receivers struggling for consistency, tight end Fred Davis became the focal point of the passing game and led the Trojans in receptions nine times in 12 games.
But with Damian Williams, Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson playing well this season, tight ends mainly have been relegated to blocking. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound McCoy ran for yardage after several catches against Cal.
"When I saw all that open grass, I just thought 'Get North and South for as many yards as you can,' " said McCoy, who has caught 11 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. "I hope I get more this week, but it's all up to the game plan. If stuff opens up, I'll be ready."
Defensive tackle Averell Spicer returned from an ankle injury and is available for Saturday's game, Carroll said. . . . A day after taking repetitions at tailback, freshman D.J. Shoemate did not practice because of shoulder soreness.