The official word from Columbus on Thursday regarding the status of Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells was interpreted by USC Coach Pete Carroll and his players to mean there was no doubt that Wells would play on Saturday against the top-ranked Trojans.
"I'll be surprised if he's not out there," Carroll said.
On Tuesday, Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel announced that Wells would play for the fifth-ranked Buckeyes. Tressel, however, downgraded that assessment the morning after Wells practiced in pads for the first time since suffering a foot injury in the season opener two weeks ago.
"If I was him, I'm going to play," Trojans tailback C.J. Gable said. "This is a big game; this could change your whole season right here."
USC running backs coach Todd McNair did not have to think hard to recall a back who sat out practice because of injury but somehow recovered to play well in a huge game.
"LenDale White," McNair said. "Orange Bowl."
In the weeks leading up to the 2005 national championship game against Oklahoma, White was hobbled by an ankle injury and was barely able to practice. On game night, he took the field against the Sooners and rushed for 118 yards, scoring two touchdowns.
White credited Carroll's wife, Glena, for praying over his injury in the pool at the team's hotel.
"I don't know how hurt he was, technically," McNair said. "But he's out for a month, there's a healing in the pool and he runs for more than 100 yards."
The assistant said he had seen other last-minute recoveries but doesn't recommend it as the best method to prepare for a big game.
"As a running back, you like them to get their touches," he said. "You want them to get the feel for where the holes may open up."
It's finally here ...
Trojans players were thrilled to complete their final full practice in preparation for the Buckeyes. Leaving the media onslaught behind also seemed to move them.
"We're ready!" defensive end Everson Griffen exclaimed.
"We wish today was Saturday," center Kristofer O'Dowd said.
O'Dowd, however, cautioned that the Trojans had finished only the physical part of getting ready.
"Now it's more of the mental game," O'Dowd said.
Carroll is pleased with the progress of the offense and defense since the opener, but kickoff and punt coverage remains a concern.
"We're hoping that steps up," Carroll said. "It's going to need to, because they have a great punt-return team."
The Buckeyes are averaging 19.4 yards per punt return. Last week against Ohio, Ray Small returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown.
They're No. 1
Carroll, invoking perhaps a bit of gamesmanship, declared that Ohio State has "the best defense in America."
Ohio State finished the 2007 season first in total defense.
The Buckeyes, who defeated Youngstown State and Ohio, entered the week second behind South Florida. The Trojans, who had an open date after their season-opening victory over Virginia, are 11th.
Receiver Vidal Hazelton (ankle) practiced and was cleared to play Saturday. . . . Linebacker Rey Maualuga sat out briefly after suffering what he said was a hyperextended right elbow. He returned and completed practice. "It's just a little boo-boo," he said. . . . Defensive tackle Fili Moala and defensive end Kyle Moore, who did not practice Wednesday because of back spasms, returned and will play Saturday. . . . Academy Award winners Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx are among the celebrities who will receive sideline passes for Saturday's game.