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Munoz Has Praise for Line

Times Staff Writer

After watching USC dismantle Notre Dame on the Fighting Irish’s home turf, Anthony Munoz trailed Trojan players as they ran off the field and into the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium.

“They played extremely well,” said Munoz, a pro football Hall of Famer who played offensive tackle for USC in 1976-79.

Munoz was responding to a question about USC’s offensive line, which turned in another solid performance in the Trojans’ 45-14 rout.

The offensive line also was on Coach Pete Carroll’s mind after the Trojans rolled up 551 yards. Carroll said a group that was maligned a few years ago has become a strength.

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“These guys are a good, solid offensive-line unit,” Carroll said. “It’s really shown consistency and improved.”

Four USC tailbacks combined to rush for 210 yards against Notre Dame. USC ran for 220 yards the week before against Stanford and 198 two weeks ago against Arizona State.

“You can’t do it without running the football,” said Carroll, whose team remained fifth in the Associated Press poll. “As you saw earlier in the year when we were kind of in the doldrums a little bit, we weren’t able to run the football.

“As soon as we got going, you could see the whole offense come back to life again like it did last year.”

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USC gave up 36 sacks in 2001, but only 25 last season. The Trojans have allowed 11 sacks, but two of the three Notre Dame was credited with came on snaps that were mishandled and recovered by quarterback Matt Leinart.

Junior John Drake started the game at right guard in place of Fred Matua then moved to left tackle when Jacob Rogers suffered a knee sprain.

“A lot changes when you move over like that,” Drake said. “Your stance, the sets, your footwork, what to look for on a blitz -- all of it.

“It was hell, I’ll tell you that for the record. But that’s cool. As long as we win, it doesn’t matter.”

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Carroll said Sunday that Drake would start at left tackle if Rogers is unable to play on Saturday when the Trojans resume their Pacific 10 Conference schedule at Washington.

Carroll said the Trojans already were talking about the Washington game by the time their flight from South Bend, Ind., landed in Los Angeles.

“Each game is a championship game now in the Pac-10 and we have to keep knocking them off,” he said. “That’s much easier said than done.”

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Defensive end Omar Nazel underwent a surgical procedure for the dislocated right thumb he suffered against Notre Dame. Carroll said Nazel’s status for Saturday’s game at Washington would be determined by how he responds to practicing in a cast. ... Linebacker Matt Grootegoed re-aggravated a high ankle sprain but is expected to play against Washington.


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