"The weight has kind of lifted," running backs coach Todd McNair said. "The media, fans and everybody were like ‘OK you're not Reggie in the way that Reggie was Reggie in his junior year.'"
Now at ease, McKnight has developed into a better player and teammate.
McKnight lost a fumble early in the season opener against San Jose State but responded with a team-high 145 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
The junior tailback has shown more consistency and toughness running the ball this season, which is due in large part to his new attitude and better work habits.
"Joe has just really matured," Pete Carroll said. "He'd be the first to tell you, I think he made the statement that he graded this first two years as failing because he missed out on the opportunities, in the sense of really being serious and really being prepared in the way that he is now."
McKnight hasn't always been the hardest working player in practice and summer workouts, but this offseason there has been a noticeable change in his demeanor.
As running backs coach Todd McNair explained it has never been a question of talent with Joe but focus.
"He can score from anywhere on the field. He's lightning fast, ultra-talented and he's got great vision. He has all the skills. You can split him out and he can catch balls," McNair said. "The thing is just to get him focused."
The arrival of a newborn son in February has been a life changing experience for McKnight and provided him with a new sense of purpose.
"He has matured because he had a kid," McNair said. "He goes to all of his classes now and he is focused and mature.
"He can harness his ability now. He isn't all over the place."
McKnight was all over the place though on the Trojans' 86-yard game-winning drive against Ohio State.
After a Matt Barkley sack on first down and a false start penalty the Trojans found themselves 95 yards away from a win, but then McKnight took over the game.
On second-and-nineteen from the 5, McKnight took a handoff and raced 11 yards, bringing up a critical third-and-eight. On third, he caught a short pass from Barkley and turned it into a 21-yard gain giving the Trojans a first down and the spark they needed.
"He was the real deal in that drive. Joe had a fantastic ending to that game," Carroll said. "That was just a marvelous sequence for Joe, and that was probably the first time that he has been under that kind of pressure for us in a game-winning situation and he came through, and did a marvelous job."
McKnight shined in the spotlight, racking up 53 of the Trojans' 86 yards on the final drive.
"He looks at it like a guy that has really been around and been through the battles," Carroll said. "He's a different guy right now."
For his efforts against Ohio State, McKnight was named the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Week.
Barkley, Mays Day-to-Day
USC quarterback Matt Barkley didn't throw any passes in practice today after suffering a bruised right shoulder late in the Trojans win over Ohio State.
Barkley did participate on a limited basis on Monday, handing the ball off during 11-on-11.
"He's got a bruised shoulder and they think he is going to be OK by the end of the week," Carroll said.
Carroll said that Barkley is day-to-day but didn't give any details about when he expects the freshman to return to practice full-speed.
Safety Taylor Mays didn't practice today because of a second degree knee sprain.
"I woke up on Sunday and it was stiff," Mays said. "It was a second degree sprain."
The All-American safety said he needs to get a knee brace before he will know if he can play this weekend against Washington.
"I am going to see how I feel. I have to get a brace," he said. "I can't play if I don't have a brace, so I have to get a brace first and see how it feels.
"If I don't feel right then I won't play but I will just go day-by-day."
- Brown was out with an illness. Marc Tyler wore a boot to protect his sprained big toe and doesn't expect to play this Saturday against Washington.
- Joe McKnight's performance on the Trojans' last drive will be remembered for years by USC fans, and the junior running back said he was pleasantly surprised to get so many opportunities in the critical situation.
"We had to do something to come up with the win," McKnight said. "Coach Carroll gave me a chance to take over, so I took advantage of that.
"I was a little surprised but Coach Carroll has always had faith in me."
- After watching film of the win over Ohio State, Carroll praised the play of the defense, which held the Buckeyes to just 15 points.
"The defense played really well and we tackled really well. They just didn't do very much after the game got going and I love the thought that they got 5 first downs the last three quarters."
- Carroll was asked if C.J. Gable was still in the rotation at tailback after he didn't receive a single carry against Ohio State.
"Some weeks it's like that," Carroll said. "C.J. is a really good player and we would love to have him play but we just didn't get to it in the rotations."
Marc Tyler will miss the Washington game with a sprained big toe. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
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