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USC FYI

Carroll drags out a failure to knock down

October 18, 2008|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

PULLMAN, Wash. -- The ball arced high in the air before descending toward the freshman safety playing in his fourth game.

Taylor Mays can still see the Hail Mary pass that became his first interception two years ago at Martin Stadium. The last-second turnover secured a USC victory and started a running dialogue between Coach Pete Carroll and Mays that continued this week as the sixth-ranked Trojans prepared for today's Pacific 10 Conference game against Washington State.

"I wasn't supposed to catch the ball, I was supposed to knock it down," Mays said, grinning. "I still remember the talk Coach Carroll had with me after that.

"It wasn't immediately after, it was kind of on the plane, in meetings the next couple months and last Friday. I'm still getting the talk."

Reminded of the play and the ongoing aftermath, Carroll said a Hail Mary pass has never been completed against a team he has coached.

"It's not going to start now, so I rag on him," Carroll said, chuckling. "If you try to catch it, it goes off your hands and something happens. It can be an enormously costly error."

With Washington State struggling mightily this season, the outcome of today's game does not figure to come down to a final play.

Mays, who patrols the secondary like a center fielder, would settle for any opportunity.

"I feel like there's a lot of plays I'm prepared to make but I haven't because they haven't shown up," he said. "Things I'm doing in practice aren't showing up in games. They don't hit a lot of deep balls on us."

Corp not forgotten

He was competing to start and began the season No. 2 on the depth chart. But for the fourth consecutive game, redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Corp is relegated to third-string status.

"It's never where you want to be, but it is what it is," Corp said.

Coming off a stellar performance in the Trojans' spring scrimmage, Corp beat out sophomore transfer Mitch Mustain and was on track to start the opener against Virginia had Mark Sanchez not recovered from a knee injury suffered early in training camp.

However, after the Trojans' victory over Ohio State, coaches elevated Garrett Green to No. 2 because Corp and Mustain were struggling during practices.

"I mixed up some calls here and there, and that really cost me," Corp said.

Mustain caught the coaches' eyes the following week and was the No. 2 quarterback against Oregon. Mustain had a pass intercepted but also completed a 59-yard touchdown against the Ducks and retained his spot against Arizona State and now Washington State.

"You can never let your guard down," Corp said. "I had a rough couple weeks in practice and gave guys opportunities."

Corp has completed two of four passes for 14 yards in mop-up duty. He remains in the mix and could climb the depth chart as the season progresses, Carroll said.

"He's feeling a sense of urgency and competing hard," Carroll said. "We're coming to the midpoint of the season, and I'm not committing to anything for long-term."

Corp remains optimistic.

"You never know what's going to happen," he said. "I'm not down by any means. It's just not where I'd like to be right now."

Wait is over

It took nearly 3 1/2 seasons, but Nick Howell will start for the first time today when he lines up at right tackle. The fourth-year junior replaces Butch Lewis, who didn't make the trip because of an illness.

"Everyone always says our practices are harder than the games, so I'm just going to go off of that," said Howell, son of former USC All-American offensive lineman Pat Howell.

Reinforcements

With several players not making the trip because of illness, among them defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Jordan Campbell and snapper Chris Pousson, opportunities opened for some who otherwise might not have made the 64-man travel roster.

Fullback Matt Hillier, cornerback Daniel Harper and linebackers Dan Deckas and Ross Cumming could play on special teams and possibly more.

"We have so many linebackers out or banged up, these guys can really help us," said running backs coach Todd McNair, who also serves as special-teams coordinator.

Quick kicks

Receiver Vidal Hazelton was left off the travel roster because of a concussion suffered Wednesday. Carroll declined to comment about a letter written by Hazelton's father that circulated on the Internet. The letter, written the day after Hazelton suffered an ankle injury in the opener at Virginia, criticized USC for not treating the injury immediately upon the team's return to Los Angeles. . . . USC leads the series against Washington State, 55-8-4. . . . Washington State has not played a USC team ranked lower than No. 6 since 2002, when it scored a 30-27 overtime victory over the 18th-ranked Trojans at Pullman. USC was ranked No. 3 when it played the Cougars in 2003 and 2006, and No. 1 in 2004, 2005 and 2007. . . . Mays is the only USC player from Washington. The Cougars' roster has 35 Californians.

Correspondent Adam Rose contributed to this report.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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