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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : USC FYI

Trojans focus in on Gerhart

November 14, 2008|Gary Klein | Klein is a Times staff writer.

USC's marching band practices across the street from Howard Jones Field and usually drowns out much of the sound that emanates from Trojans football practice.

Linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., however, turned up his already prolific decibel level Thursday to make sure he was heard. Norton wanted to make sure defensive players knew all about Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.

"Toby Gerhart rushed for more than 3,000 yards!" Norton yelled, alluding to Gerhart's senior year total for Norco High. Norton went on to cite everything from grade-point average to how many rushing yards Gerhart needs to reach 1,000 yards this season.

Senior linebacker Kaluka Maiava said the Trojans are accustomed to buildup of opponents -- and Norton's voice.

"He just gets louder for some reason," Maiava said. "That just sets the tone."

The sixth-ranked Trojans believe that controlling Gerhart on Saturday will be a key to defeating the Cardinal and avenging last year's upset loss at the Coliseum.

Gerhart, a 6-foot-1 junior, has run for 932 yards and 13 touchdowns. He and senior running back Anthony Kimble lead a Cardinal offense that is averaging 207 rushing yards a game and is on pace to break the school-single season record of 2,259 yards.

Norton's pep talks have helped inspire a defense that is ranked No. 1 nationally, surrendering only 6.7 points and 206.4 yards a game. The Trojans are third in rushing defense, giving up 77.8 yards a game.

"He might be joking, but we take it to heart," defensive end Kyle Moore said. "You can't just roll your eyes, otherwise you roll your eyes in the game and you get run over."

Gerhart has eclipsed 100 yards rushing six times this season.

"We'll find out on Saturday if he's the real deal," Maiava said.

Streak busters

Stanford played the spoiler last season, upsetting USC at the Coliseum and ending the Trojans' 35-game home win streak.

USC now gets a chance to return the favor and end the Cardinal's longest home win streak in more than 10 years.

Stanford, 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Pacific 10 Conference under second-year Coach Jim Harbaugh, defeated California in the annual Big Game in 2007 and has won all four of its home games this season -- against Oregon State, San Jose State, Arizona and Washington State.

The five-game home winning streak is the longest since the Cardinal won two in a row at the end of the 1996 season and its first three in 1997.

Carroll and his players expect a much rowdier atmosphere than the last time the Trojans visited. In 2006, Walt Harris' final season as coach, Stanford was 0-8 when the Trojans came to town and routed the Cardinal in their newly renovated stadium, 42-0.

"I'm sure we'll see a much different crowd following," Carroll said. "There's a different energy about the program and has been that way ever since Jim Harbaugh got there.

"They have a momentum that they haven't probably felt in a long time at their home stadium. I'm sure they're going to protect it with everything they've got."

Quick kicks

Cornerback Kevin Thomas did not practice because of a knee bruise, but said he would play on Saturday. . . . Freshman D.J. Shoemate, who worked some at tailback Tuesday, did not practice again because of shoulder soreness and will not make the trip, Carroll said. . . . Tight end Blake Ayles (knee), who did not play against Cal, did some light running for the first time this week.

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

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