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December 6, 2008

Sanchez turns in gritty performance

Pasadena, Calif. - In a moment, everything can change. During Thursday's practice, USC quarterback Mark Sanchez had an offensive coordinator who had been there for most of his college career.

Then, in the hours after practice, it became clear that things would be different.

Reports surfaced that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would be named head coach at Washington.

When Sanchez heard the news, his face went blank. He looked stunned.

"He was pretty confused by all of it," fullback Stanley Havili said. "Sark has been his main mentor. Sark's kind of taught him everything he knows in college football.

"Now that he's going, Mark was sort of confused."

Sanchez, an emotional player, needed to get his head right before USC and UCLA took the field at the Rose Bowl.

He had to be focused on the now. He couldn't be worried about the future, about who the Trojans' next offensive leader would be.

"It just hit me at a weird time," Sanchez said. " It wasn't a problem. We'll figure it all out and finalize it this week.

"We didn't let the distraction bother us. We addressed it as a team and put it in its place."

And in his first nine passes, Sanchez showed exactly where his head was at.

After a fumble by C.J. Gable set up an early UCLA touchdown, the Trojan offense responded with a pair of scores triggered largely in part by the passing game.

He found Damian Williams for a 31 yards and Anthony McCoy to move the sticks on fourth down - leading to USC's first score.

Then on the Trojans' next drive, Sanchez found Williams for 25 yards, Patrick Turner for 23 yard and Williams again for 12 more and another score.

By the end of the first quarter, Sanchez completed eight-of-nine attempts for 122 yards and a score.

If Sanchez and the Trojan offense were affected by Sarkisian's pending departure, they didn't show it.

"We still knew we had a game to play, and we knew Sark was going to give us his all," Turner said. "We knew we had a game to play and we knew we had to stay focused and prepared."

While he numbers tapered off after the first quarter, Sanchez turned in one of the team's grittiest performances all season long.

He scrambled for 24 yards and a few key first downs. He took some big hits, even leaving the game for one play in the third quarter.

After the game, Sanchez hobbled around the locker room with a smile on his face and a gash under his chin.

"It was fun," he said. "I loved every part of it. I was matching their energy and then some."

USC head coach Pete Carroll said Sanchez turned in a game that goes beyond the 269 yards passing or the two touchdowns (giving him 30 on the year).

"I thought Mark played a terrific football game today," Carroll said. "He got hit late three times this game… What was remarkable wasn't that; it was how he bounced back up and continued to compete and battle.

"He was really playing today…just the kind of stuff you want to see your quarterback do."

But not everyone in cardinal enjoyed seeing Sanchez throw his body around the field.

"I'd rather he didn't," Turner said. "It just shows his passion for the game and how much he loves to play. He's going to do what he's going to do.

"He's just a ballplayer."

Sanchez seems to mean more to this team than just an average player. He carries himself on the field like someone willing to give everything, and other Trojans are close in following.

"His effort is just ridiculous out there. You can tell that our team feeds off of it," Havili said. "It's awesome to see him play the game that way. He kept getting hit. He kept getting back up. He showed all of his intensity and all of those intangibles.

"He's a warrior."


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