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USC FYI

Playing safe not usually his style

November 19, 2008|Gary Klein | Klein is a Times staff writer.

Mark Sanchez has not had a pass intercepted in three games and continues to lead the Pacific 10 Conference in passing efficiency.

So is it perception or reality that Sanchez is not playing as well as he did early in the season?

USC dialed back the passing game against California two weeks ago and then put the ball in the air only 17 times against Stanford after Sanchez struggled in the first quarter.

Asked Tuesday if he felt stifled by the focus on efficiency and conservative play-calling, Sanchez acknowledged an inner conflict.

"It's a real fine line to stay aggressive and make the throws that I want to make, and then being able to pull back," Sanchez said after practice. "I think the last three games, more than anything, I've probably been more conservative than I'm used to and that's showed.

"But if that's what it takes to keep things going and to keep winning, then conservative is what I need to be because it's working. I'll just keep on pushing the envelope at the right time."

Sanchez has passed for 26 touchdowns with seven interceptions. But his ability to sidestep defenders and make big throws has been absent of late, replaced instead by sacks in or near the pocket.

Sanchez said the right ankle sprain he suffered in practice a few days before the Cal game is not an issue.

Fumbling after hits, however, has been. Sanchez has fumbled four times in the last four games, losing one.

"The fumble situation's gotta be fixed immediately," he said. "When I'm getting a little pressure, I'm used to just putting [the ball] in one hand. I got away with it early in the year.

"I've only been bitten by it a couple times, but those are just as costly as interceptions."

Sanchez intends to use the practices that precede this week's open date to evaluate how to improve in the last two games against Notre Dame and UCLA and a bowl game.

Criticism comes with the territory, he acknowledged, even for the quarterback of a 9-1 team.

"It's OK, it's just the way it goes," he said. "I just need to critique myself and I'm pretty hard on myself."

Blame the defense

Ronald Johnson, who had 75- and 45-yard kickoff returns in the Trojans' victory over Stanford, is averaging 31.3 yards a return, which would make him tied for second nationally if he qualified.

But the Trojans, thanks to their defense, have had only 17 kickoff-return opportunities. Johnson's 10 returns, therefore, fall below the NCAA minimum of 1.2 per game for individual players.

Because there is no minimum for team statistical leaders, USC leads the nation with a 30.1-yard average.

Techno-coach

USC Coach Pete Carroll will hold a 30-minute video conference with fans Thursday at 11 a.m. Those who register on his website at www.petecarroll.com can type in questions and Carroll will try to answer as many as possible.

"I'm pretty clueless about the whole technology side of it, but I think I'm going to just wind up talking to the screen," Carroll said. "Hopefully, it will be cool.

"If I'm talking to [Notre Dame Coach] Charlie Weis or something like that, I hope I can tell."

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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