It appeared doubtful a few days ago, but it looks as if USC will have its regular offensive and defensive play-callers in the starting lineup against Arizona State.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez practiced Wednesday for the first time since suffering a knee injury last week against Oregon, taking first-team snaps during several drills and moving and throwing the ball well.
Sanchez's status for Saturday's game hinges on how well his knee responds today and the rest of the week, Coach Pete Carroll said. If Sanchez cannot play, Mitch Mustain will start.
Carroll did not wait to announce that Rey Maualuga would start at middle linebacker against the Sun Devils, allowing Brian Cushing to return to the strong-side spot. Redshirt freshman Chris Galippo will back up Maualuga, who did not play against Oregon because of a knee sprain suffered against Oregon State.
Maualuga has been wearing a brace on his right knee and has been instructed to do so for three games. The senior seemed surprised when informed that Carroll announced him as the starter but said he would be ready.
Asked if he was fully healed and ready to play, Maualuga said, "Am I the same 100% to do this and do that? It's too close to say because it's only Wednesday."
With only four games left at the Coliseum, however, Maualuga does not intend to miss any chances to finish his career with a flourish.
"I don't want to be selfish but . . . I want to enjoy it," he said.
Tailback Joe McKnight sat out most of practice because of right knee soreness, but not before completing extra pre-practice work catching punts.
"Just trying to sharpen my tools back up, get back to catching the ball," said McKnight, who has fumbled three punts this season, losing one.
McKnight said his problems stemmed from trying to make moves before he caught the ball.
"I wasn't looking the ball in," he said. "I would catch it, but next thing you know it would just come out."
Stafon Johnson replaced McKnight after a fumble against Oregon and could get more opportunities against Arizona State.
Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter did not practice Wednesday, putting Danny Sullivan on track for his first career start.
Sun Devils Coach Dennis Erickson told the Arizona Republic that Carpenter, who has started 36 consecutive games, was "very doubtful" to play against USC.
"We still have three days," Erickson said. "Our plan is that Sully is going to play. That's where it's at right now."
Left guard Jeff Byers is accustomed to motivating younger teammates and providing insight on the finer points of offensive line play. So Byers, a fifth-year senior, was surprised last week when Carroll asked him to address the Trojans about another issue:
The United States economic crisis.
"Coach Carroll said he was looking for a coachable moment but wanted to get off the subject of football," said Byers, who is a graduate student in the USC Marshall School of Business.
Byers spoke to the team last Friday, the night before the Trojans defeated Oregon to rebound from their upset loss at Oregon State. The near five-minute address covered banks extending credit, borrowers failing to pay loans and other related issues.
"There were some blank faces," Byers said, chuckling. "But there also are guys who are well read. They understand and are interested in what's going on.
"Hopefully, some people learned something."
Fullback Stanley Havili did not practice because of neck stiffness that resulted from a collision on the last play of Tuesday's practice. If Havili does not play Saturday, junior Adam Goodman would start and freshman D.J. Shoemate also would play, Carroll said. . . . Linebacker Luthur Brown (back) continues to practice but is still awaiting clearance to play. . . . Michael Morgan, who suffered a concussion against Oregon, has not practiced this week.