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In Chris Polk, Trojans face one who got away

Talented running back committed to USC before changing his mind and signing with Washington, which visits the Coliseum to play the Trojans on Saturday.

November 09, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • Washington running back Chris Polk, a one-time USC commit, is considered one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 Conference.
Washington running back Chris Polk, a one-time USC commit, is considered… (Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images )

Chris Polk could have been a Trojan.

Washington's star running back made a verbal commitment to USC while playing at Redlands East Valley High, but he changed his mind and signed instead with the Huskies in 2008.

Polk, a fourth-year junior, ranks second in the Pac-12 Conference and seventh nationally in rushing going into Saturday's game against No. 21 USC at the Coliseum.

"He's probably the best back we've faced so far," USC safety T.J. McDonald said Wednesday. "He can catch the ball and he can also run with it between the tackles.

"He's a big kid so we have to make sure we tackle him. We don't want to give him many second chances."

Or, as Coach Lane Kiffin said, "It's not real complicated: Tackle the guy really well and don't let him keep falling forward."

The 5-foot-11, 222-pound Polk has rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He and Napoleon Kaufman, who played in 1992-94, are the only Huskies running backs to amass more than 1,000 yards rushing three times.

Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian recruited Polk to USC when he was an assistant on the Trojans staff, but Polk opted to play for Tyrone Willingham in Seattle.

Sarkisian replaced Willingham after the Huskies finished 0-12 in 2008.

Polk rushed for 1,113 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and 1,415 yards in 2010.

This season, he has averaged 121.8 yards rushing per game and has evolved into a productive receiver. Polk has 24 receptions, three for touchdowns.

"He still runs with a very physical nature. He's tremendous with yards after contact," Sarkisian said. "He's really matured from that time when I first met him in high school.

"He's been one of the real catalysts for the change in this program, of what we inherited from 0-12 to where we are right now."

McDonald isn't tentative

Kiffin said this week that in the aftermath of a suspension for an illegal hit, McDonald looked tentative when he played in the second half against Colorado. He also said that McDonald would probably not admit it was affecting him.

Kiffin was right.

McDonald said he was not tentative.

"I didn't even have a situation to where that presented itself, to where I had to make that decision," he said. "I was just playing football the way I know how to play."

During practice, McDonald has been focused on bringing his arms into tackles.

"The more I do that, the more it will become habit and I won't have to think about it," he said.

Quick hits

Tailback Marc Tyler has been cleared to play against Washington, but junior Curtis McNeal is most likely to start for the second consecutive game, Kiffin said. … Cornerback Torin Harris did a few drills for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against Arizona State on Sept. 24. … Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris (ankle) did not practice.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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