October 5, 2008

News and notes: Oregon

The USC football team had an agenda Saturday at the Coliseum when they faced the Oregon Ducks.

First of all, the Trojans needed a win, keeping them from an 0-2 start in Pac-10 play for the first time in head coach Pete Carroll's tenure.

On a deeper level, though, USC wanted to win a certain way, helping erase the memories from a swagger-shaking 27-21 loss at Oregon State over a week ago.

"It's really important for us to get back on track," C.J. Gable said. "We needed to get this win. We just needed to start focusing again and get our confidence back up."

And the Trojans needed to re-assert themselves as a dominant running team after rushing for just 86 yards against the Beaver defense.

Saturday in a 44-10 win over Oregon, the Trojan ground game gained 155 yards on 39 carries (4.0 yards per carry). While those numbers aren't particularly gaudy, they certainly got the job done.

Six Trojan running backs carried the ball, led by 10 attempts for Gable, Ronald Johnson took an end around and Mitch Mustain and Mark Sanchez also rushed, giving USC nine different ball carriers.

Contrastingly, only five Oregon players rushed for the Ducks.

"We just wanted to make sure everyone got in tune with the game," Stafon Johnson said. "We wanted to establish the run early. You never know what we can attack you with every week.

"We can come with the pass first or we can be physical. That's what makes us so good - the versatility of the offense."

Without Zack Heberer at right guard, Alex Parsons slid into the lineup and provided a boost. Heberer could return from turf toe for the Trojans game with Arizona State Saturday.

Despite the switch up front, running backs coach Todd McNair said the team made an adjustment to their game plan and decided to attack the interior of the Oregon defense.

"We just took a different approach. We were a little more committed to the inside stuff, the offensive line did its job and my boys ran hard," McNair said. "It's usually a mix of what the offensive line can give us and what the backs are able to create.

"It was more our speed and our commitment to do what we do best."

Ausberry fields forever

After redshirting in his first year on campus, David Ausberry made an impact in 2007, catching 26 passes and two touchdowns - including one in USC's Rose Bowl thrashing of Illinois.

He appeared in all 13 games and caught passes in 11 of them.

In 2008, though, Ausberry hadn't been effective in the Trojans; first three games catching exactly zero passes.

"I was getting a little frustrated, but I know what I can do and so do the coaches," Ausberry said. "I'm not going to harp on myself. I'm just going out there to work and play as hard as I possibly can."

The hard work paid off. After a good week of practice, Ausberry caught three passes for a career-best 74 yards.

"The players and the coaches believe in me. They're trying to let me get out there and get loose," he said. "If I don't get any balls, I'm going to find some way to contribute. I'll never be mad if we're winning."

Ausberry and Mustain connected for a 59-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter after Mustain audibled from a slant to a go route. The score put USC up 34 points.

"That surprised me," Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti said. "I don't get it. I guess they think there is still margin of victory."

Regardless of what the touchdown meant to the outcome, it was a moment Ausberry will always remember.

"That first touchdown at home is always special," he said. "I'm going to cherish this one."

Cush in the middle

Senior Brian Cushing took over middle linebacker duties for Rey Maualuga with Maualuga nursing a bum knee, and Cushing made the transition look easy.

"I was definitely comfortable," he said. "It felt natural being in that position."

Cushing finished with six tackles, including two tackles for a loss and a sack.

"I love him at inside linebacker," Carroll said. "He looks like a natural… we all have to remember he played with a broken hand."

The cast on Cushing's hand likely cost him an interception, as he couldn't reign in an errant Jeremiah Masoli pass.

Mitchapalooza

Mustain moved into the No. 2 quarterback spot after two good weeks of practice, and he said he's beginning to grasp the offense at a higher level.

"I feel good with it," he said.

Mustain entered the game after Sanchez suffered a knee bruise, and after Sanchez came back for a series, Mustain closed out the game, going 5-of-8 for 111 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

"It's unfortunate what happened to Mark, but I was kind of excited to get that opportunity," Mustain said. "It was good to get in there and get that chance, and I felt I did pretty good with it."

If Sanchez is unable to play when Arizona State comes to the Coliseum next Saturday, Mustain would be the leading candidate to start.

Extra Points

• Stafon Johnson's dazzling 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter was USC's first rushing touchdown since Allen Bradford's short score in the fourth quarter of the Trojans' win at Virginia.

• After shutting out Oregon in the third quarter, the Trojans now have outscored opponents 52-0 in the 15 minutes after halftime.

• The Trojans 598 yards was their most since the 2008 Rose Bowl win over Illinois.

• Todd McNair's explanation for the improvement in the ground game : "It worked."

• After muffing a punt, Stafon Johnson replaced Joe McKnight as the Trojans' returner. Johnson returned three punts for 19 yards.

• McKnight led the Trojans with a game-high 114 all-purpose yards.

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