September 10, 2008

USC counting on Sanchez, preparing for Wells

Like every team, Southern California has certainly paid close attention to specific things that will surely be a key to their success come Saturday's showdown with national powerhouse Ohio State.

The fairly universal choice among the media and Trojan faithful hinges on the performance of quarterback Mark Sanchez and his ability to run USC's offense against perhaps the toughest defense he has seen in his career when the Buckeyes invade the Coliseum.

While Sanchez had an outstanding showing in USC's 52-7 season-opening victory over Virginia � in which he 26-for-35 for 338 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception � some are still questioning the starter in his first year as USC's main signal-caller.

USC head coach Pete Carroll isn't one of them.

"I think one of the things that I appreciate the most, Mark's a great all around athlete," Carroll said Tuesday in his weekly luncheon with the press. "He can do anything. He can throw, catch, hit a baseball, hit a golf ball, shoot the basketball. He can do everything. All of those qualities can enhance a guy's ability to play this ridiculously difficult position of quarterback.

"He's really comfortable with being the starting quarterback at USC. You know, he's grown up to be this and become this. He's taking it in stride very well," Carroll added. "Even with the setback of being injured, you know, his attitude was courageous and pointed. He was never going to miss a game. He healed himself beautifully to get back, then had enough time to practice, prepare and perform well."

While most haven't seen much out of Sanchez besides his performance against Virginia and his spot starts for the Trojans last year in replacement of an injured John David Booty, Carroll has.

The head coach has been impressed with Sanchez throughout fall camp and is certainly confident in his quarterback's ability in such a big game like the one coming up Saturday against the Buckeyes.

"I think he's got stuff like Carson Palmer. He's got stuff like Matt Leinart. He's got accuracy like John David Booty," Carroll said. "He's got the great history to watch all of those guys and grow up under them and watch our system evolve. And so, you know, he's got everything going for him. He's got a bunch of guys around him that will play for him.

"Hopefully this will work out well for him," Carroll added. "He'll understand, like Carson, like Matt and John David, they've got to give the ball to all these good players around them and try not to be the whole show, because that's not what we ask our quarterback to do. Mark I think understands that really well."

Perhaps one of the Trojan's main concerns could be standing on the opposite sideline in Ohio State running back Chris Wells.

While not much has been released in terms of specifics of Wells' injury, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel did say in his weekly press conference Tuesday that the star tailback should be ready for Saturday's game against the Trojans.

Though Wells has been banged up, Carroll and the Trojans undoubtedly never wrote him off in terms of his readiness for the big game. That being said, USC has been working diligently to prepare for a back like Wells, one Carroll spoke very highly of.

"The thing about him, he's going to play. He's played hurt throughout his career," Carroll said. "That's not going to keep him from playing in this game. He's tough. He's got the ability to really just control the game.

"It's been a while since you've seen a guy like that," Carroll added. "He's got Jonathan Stewart type of stuff. He's got Marshawn Lynch type of stuff. He's got great speed. You know, those guys were great college players. He is, as well."

Without getting too carried away with Wells, the Trojans have quite a stable of backs residing on their sideline as well. When it comes to speedster Joe McKnight or a spark plug like C.J. Gable, the Trojans have plenty of depth at the running back position.

Against Virginia, Gable rushed nine times for 73 yards (8.1 yards per carry) and a 33-yard touchdown while McKnight had six carries for 60 yards (10 yards per carry) in addition to four receptions for 24 yards and a touchdown.

McKnight, who is regarded as one of USC's most explosive players, is confident in the ability of the Trojan's running back corps this season.

"We're always in the meeting rooms, we're always together. We just have to bond together no matter what happens," McKnight said of the running backs at the press conference. "We're not worried about one running back getting more touches than everyone else, we're just helping each other out as we go along so there's no hatred towards each other at all."

"I like the challenge," McKnight said of the Ohio State game. "I like to ramp my game up for a big game and give it my all."

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