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Instead of Passing, Van Raaphorst Passed Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even if he knew it in the back of his helmet-less head, even if he stood on the sideline and could figure out he was watching the dawning of the Carson Palmer Era, Mike Van Raaphorst wasn’t dead sure until the middle of the third quarter.

Even though Palmer started the game Saturday against Washington, Coach Paul Hackett had implied that Van Raaphorst would rotate in for Palmer, the way Palmer rotated in for him during the first eight games.

Somewhere in the middle of the third quarter, without a word from Hackett, the rotation stopped.

Van Raaphorst was left on the sideline, fidgeting with a football and nowhere to throw it.

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And Palmer was the quarterback left with an offense to lead and the program in his hands.

“In the third quarter, when it usually happens, it didn’t happen,” Van Raaphorst said, referring to the quarterback rotation. “That’s the way we’ve been handling it, and [Hackett] said we were going to handle it the way we’ve been handling it all year.”

So what happened?

Why did Palmer take every USC snap in the Trojans’ 33-10 victory, paving the way for Hackett to name him the starter for the rest of the season and presumably for the rest of Van Raaphorst’s remaining eligibility?

“I have no idea,” said Van Raaphorst, the sophomore who said he was told Tuesday by Hackett that Palmer would replace him in the starting lineup against the Huskies. “Talk to him.

“I’m a lot disappointed I didn’t play at all today. I did expect to play. So not to play at all. . . . It’s his team. His decision. There’s really nothing I can say about it.”

Van Raaphorst kept a baseball cap on throughout the game, which may or may not indicate that, no matter what Hackett told him, he suspected that once Palmer got the starting nod, the heralded freshman might never come out of the game.

Van Raaphorst’s first collegiate start also came against Washington, last season.

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“I thought he played fine,” Van Raaphorst said of Palmer. “I thought he played well. He made some good plays.”

Ken O’Brien, the quarterbacks coach and a long-time NFL veteran, said he understood what Van Raaphorst must have been feeling during the game.

“I’m sure he wants to play, and if he wasn’t mad about it, I’d have to question why he was doing it,” O’Brien said.

Did Van Raaphorst, who has thrown for eight touchdowns, completed 49.7% of his passes this season and is 6-4 over the last two seasons as the USC starter, try to talk Hackett out of the decision to start Palmer?

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“You don’t talk to him too much, I take it,” Van Raaphorst said.

There wasn’t any discussion during the game, either, as Palmer maneuvered the Trojans confidently enough for Hackett to keep Van Raaphorst on the sideline.

“He didn’t say a word to me,” Van Raaphorst said of Hackett.

But several of his teammates and coaches did speak to Van Raaphorst throughout the game, trying to keep his spirits up and his mind in the game.

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“I told Mike he’s got to keep his head up,” receiver Billy Miller said. “Even though Carson is starting, Mike’s going to get another chance sometime. And when you get in, you can’t be upset, wishing you’d been playing, or you won’t be able to do what you can do.

“I think Mike’s OK. I think he’s handling it good.”

Said O’Brien: “Mike was doing fine. He was doing a great job for us. But the decision was made for a change.”

And, though nothing is ever permanent in this quarterback-crunching sport, the change certainly had a permanent feel to it Saturday as the locker room filled with reporters and Van Raaphorst quickly finished getting dressed.

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“You should go talk to some of the guys who actually contributed,” Van Raaphorst said. “None of the controversy stuff.”

No controversy. Just a change.


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