USC fans have been waiting for a spark to get the USC offense going and on Saturday Joe McKnight was just that spark. The freshman tailback got the Trojans offense out of its funk early in the fourth quarter with a 45-yard punt return. "That punt return was exciting and just what we needed," said Pete Carroll
Mc Knight added a 59-yard run late in the fourth quarter to help seal the hard fought victory for the Trojans. The 59-yard run by McKnight was his career best and the longest run from scrimmage by a Trojan this season.
On the day McKnight rushed for 95 yards on 13 carries and had a game high 128 all-purpose yards.
"Joe is really starting to show what he is capable of. He took a big step today and I know he will keep showing what he's got," said Carroll.
Sanchez Gets Win in Debut
USC quarterback Mark Sanchez got a tough win in his first career start. "It was ugly. It was bloody and it was a mess there for awhile," said Sanchez after the win.
The gunslinger from Mission Viejo had his struggles throwing interceptions on consecutive plays in the second quarter. But he rebounded with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis in the fourth quarter to give the Trojans a 17-13 lead. The 25-yard TD pass was the first of Sanchez's career.
Sanchez explained that he stayed up all night imaging his first TD pass. "It felt real good. It was nice to get the first one," said Sanchez. "I couldn't sleep last night just thinking about it and it turned out to be the spark we needed."
Sanchez was 19 of 31 for 130 yards and touchdown. While his stats weren't spectacular Sanchez made enough plays to lead the Trojans to a 20-13 victory.
Offensive Line Gets Thinner
The Trojans offensive line has been plagued all year by injuries and Saturday's game just added to the depth problems for USC.
The Trojans came into Saturday's game without starting center Kristofer O'Dowd, starting guard Chilo Rachal and back-up tackle Charles Brown. During Saturday's game left tackle Sam Baker went down with a pulled hamstring and guard Zach Heberer left the game with a bruised shoulder.
After the game offensive line coach Pat Ruel commented on all the injuries. "I only have one guy left. The next guy was probably me and I've got two bad hamstrings to start with," said Ruel.
Butch Lewis and Alatini Malu, who have injury issues of their own filled in for Baker and Heberer and did a fine job. "I'm just so proud of them. They just keep battling and they hang in their and I'm very proud of them for that fact," said Ruel. "This games a tough game but it's a pleasure to coach tough guys."
The offensive line is very limited heading into the Notre Dame game but Rachal and O'Dowd could make it back this week. "We are hoping to get a couple guys back. I think Chilo (Rachal) is going to try and make it back for Notre Dame and O'Dowd could be close" said Ruel.
Davis Comes Up Big Again
Tight End Fred Davis had another big day for the Trojans. Davis caught a 25-yard TD pass from Mark Sanchez early in the fourth quarter to give the Trojans a 17-13 lead. It was Davis' team-best fourth TD reception this year.
Davis led USC with 63 receiving yards on 6 catches. Davis has led USC in receiving in four of the last five games.
Trojans Win Turnover Battle
Pete Carroll has always stressed the importance of winning the turnover battle but after last week's shocking loss to Stanford it became even more important this week at practice. The Trojans defense set the tone early forcing a fumble on the Wildcats first drive. On the day USC forced four fumbles and recovered three. The Trojans turned the ball over twice, both came on Mark Sanchez interceptions.
Griffen gets First Career Sack
Luthur Brown replaced the injured Rey Maualuga and had a solid game playing middle linebacker. The big linebacker from Lakeland High School had six tackles for the Trojans. If Maualuga can't play against Notre Dame then Luthur Brown or Thomas Williams will start in his place at middle linebacker.
Five-star wide receiver Brice Butler was on an official visit to USC this weekend. The 6-3, 189 lb wide receiver from Norcross High School in Georgia is ranked as the fifth best receiver prospect in the class of 2008. Butler committed to USC in August and is one of the most polished receivers in high school.
Mater Dei junior quarterback Matt Barkley was also in attendance for the game.
OL Sam Baker – pulled hamstring
OL Zach Heberer – bruised shoulder
LB – Rey Maualuga – hip pointer
Next Saturday the Trojans will head to South Bend, Indiana to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Fighting Irish are 1-6 after losing 27-14 to Boston College. The USC – Notre Dame game starts at 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time and will be nationally televised on NBC.