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Washington is not overlooking Dillon Baxter

Huskies Coach Steve Sarkisian says the Trojans just might turn loose the freshman running back Saturday, so he is preparing his team 'for the unexpected.'

September 27, 2010|By Gary Klein

Marc Tyler had his moments as USC's featured running back.

So have Allen Bradford and Stanley Havili.

But this could be the week that USC Coach Lane Kiffin truly unveils freshman Dillon Baxter.

At least, Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian theorized as much Monday.

With an open date last week, Sarkisian and his staff watched as the Trojans opened with a no-huddle offense, put the ball in Havili's hands and continued to shift formations on conversion attempts during a rout of Washington State.

"We've got to continually be prepared for the unexpected," Sarkisian said about Saturday's matchup with the Trojans.

Then, without prompting, Sarkisian invoked Baxter, who played quarterback, running back and receiver at San Diego Mission Bay High and had a hand in 79 touchdowns as a senior.

"They ran a lot of the Wildcat stuff when he was down there," Sarkisian said, "so we've got to be prepared for that as well because we know he has the capability of doing that."

Baxter was suspended for USC's opener at Hawaii and played a limited role in victories against Virginia and Minnesota.

Against Washington State, he carried a team-high 14 times, rushing for 75 yards.

"I feel like I'm getting in a little groove and starting to get used to things, the whole difference in speed," said Baxter, who has 148 yards in 30 carries and five receptions. "I just want to get into space and do what I do."

New matchup

USC quarterback Matt Barkley did not play against Washington last season because of a shoulder injury.

The Huskies, in a 16-13 victory at Seattle, capitalized on fumbles, Aaron Corp's struggles and USC's conservative play-calling.

Barkley has 12 touchdown passes — more than any other player in the Football Bowl Subdivision — but had two passes intercepted in each of the last two games.

Nevertheless, Sarkisian said Barkley was playing "at a very high level" and benefitting from the Trojans' rushing attack, its effectiveness creating opportunities for big plays off play-action fakes.

"It's going to be one of our keys and challenges to not let him be so comfortable in the pocket, because when he's comfortable, he's deadly," Sarkisian said.

Missed opportunity

Kicker Joe Houston is one of four on field-goal tries after missing from 39 yards against Washington State.

Houston made a 34-yard try against Virginia, but missed from 47 yards against the Cavaliers and from 48 yards against Minnesota.

"It hurts," he said after the Washington State game. "If I have to help my team in a close game, that might be the difference."

Kiffin said he had no plans to replace the fifth-year senior.

"He's still kicking the ball well," he said. "He just has to be more accurate."

Harris contributing

Defensive lineman DaJohn Harris started at tackle for the second consecutive game and got one of the Trojans' three sacks against Washington State.

Harris has bounced back after playing below expectations in the opener at Hawaii. His nine tackles this season include two sacks.

"I feel like I've turned it around," he said. "I'm doing much better, but I haven't reached my full potential yet."

USC resumes practice Tuesday after taking Monday off.

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