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USC FYI : McKnight to return punts

November 14, 2009|Gary Klein

Damian Williams is sidelined because of a high ankle sprain, so USC tailback Joe McKnight will return punts today when the 11th-ranked Trojans play No. 25 Stanford at the Coliseum.

McKnight, a junior, returned punts in each of the last three seasons but has never held a firm grasp on the job because of fumbling issues.

"I wasn't catching them, so you could say it was a problem," McKnight said. "But that's not the case now."

McKnight has big shoes to fill in replacing the sure-handed Williams, who has returned two kicks for touchdowns and was averaging 16.3 yards a return.

"I'm really concentrating on having my hands high and catching the ball," McKnight said. "I'm fully focused, aware and ready to do it."

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Butler ready

Redshirt freshman Brice Butler will make his first start in place of Williams at wide receiver. Butler has 10 receptions, one for a touchdown.

"Damian was like, 'You've been waiting for it and working hard for it, so just go out and do it,' " Butler said.

Ronald Johnson also will start. The junior from Michigan has 11 receptions and is still trying to recapture the form he displayed before suffering a broken collarbone that caused him to miss the first five games of the season.

"I don't feel like I'm as explosive as I used to be -- I'm still trying to find it," Johnson said. "I want to go out and execute and finish the year off strong."

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Owusu threat

USC will be challenged by Stanford's Chris Owusu, who has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and is averaging 36 yards a return, which ranks fourth nationally.

USC has given up 25 yards a return, which puts the Trojans 113th among 120 major-college teams.

"We're hoping we can keep them corralled with the kind of discipline you need to keep a guy like that down," Coach Pete Carroll said.

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Postseason drive

Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh and the Cardinal is taking a pro mentality to the end of the regular season.

"We're looking at this right now as compared to the NFL playoffs," Harbaugh said.

"And I think it's probably the closest thing to what our situation is.

"It started last week with Oregon. We had to win to stay in the hunt for the Pac-10 championship and the same is true this week.

"We lose and we're out of that. We win and we're still in it. That's tough -- that's like put-up-or-shut-up time."

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Quick hits

USC leads the series against Stanford, 59-25-3. . . . Trojans offensive coordinator John Morton was an assistant under Harbaugh at the University of San Diego in 2005. . . . Former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, the father of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, is the president and general manager of the Houston Dynamo, which played the Galaxy in the Major League Soccer Western Conference final on Friday night.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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