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Following Ellison’s lead, the hits keep on coming

Times Staff Writer

Kevin Ellison was not trying to send a message.

The hit, USC’s sophomore safety said, just happened.

But Ellison’s memorable, bone-jarring collision with California receiver DeSean Jackson two weeks ago reverberated throughout that game and seemed to carry over last week against Notre Dame, a game in which the Fighting Irish dropped several passes.

Trojans defensive backs intend to continue their hard-hitting ways today when second-ranked USC plays UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

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Members of USC’s secondary say they are certain that Bruins receivers have seen Ellison’s hit on Jackson on tape.

“I think it’s a strong image that lasts in their mind, especially when they’re going across the middle,” cornerback Terrell Thomas said. “Sometimes that leads to them dropping the ball because they’re cautious of getting hit.”

Rocky Seto, USC’s secondary coach, has no doubt that Ellison’s play affected Notre Dame -- and the Trojans.

“It resonates within ourselves to kind of validate the type of group that we are,” Seto said. “We talk about it, we practice it, then it happens.”

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Seto said the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Ellison and 6-4, 225-pound freshman safety Taylor Mays can be particularly intimidating.

“Taylor Mays was hovering right there like a big shark [against Notre Dame].... I’m hoping that’s a part of it,” Seto said. “It would seem logical, being that there’s a guy 220 or 230 coming at you.”

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Kicker Troy Van Blarcom will attempt to get back on track today after struggling to reach the end zone on kickoffs against Notre Dame.

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Van Blarcom has had a hip injury but said the problem was mental.

“I’ve been in kind of a rut lately,” he said. “I thought I got out of it for a second last game, but I kind of went back into it.”

One bad kick can cause a snowball effect, according to Van Blarcom.

“As soon as you do that the first kick, you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to hit the next kick,’ ” he said. “And when you don’t hit the next kick it’s like, ‘OK, that’s two.’ And coaches and people start to get on you so then you’re like, ‘Aw! I got to get this next kick.’

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“It just seems like you keep getting lower and lower until you’re in a big hole and you can’t get out of it.”

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USC Coach Pete Carroll plans to counsel seniors before the game about trying to do too much in their final game against UCLA.

“You don’t want them to try and make all those plays they haven’t made yet in their careers,” Carroll said. “I’ll grab them on the side and make sure we’re looking eye-to-eye so that everybody’s clear and no one is over-trying.”

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USC leads the series against the Bruins, 41-27-7.... If USC wins, the Trojans will have swept Notre Dame and UCLA for the fifth consecutive season, a first.... This is only the third time that USC has played UCLA the week after playing Notre Dame. It also occurred in 1937 and 2004.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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KEYS TO THE GAME

1 Follow the leaders. USC quarterback John David Booty has mostly looked good -- sometimes great -- this season, but he is still prone to mistakes characteristic of a first-year starter. Booty cannot afford to throw ill-advised passes that UCLA can turn into points. And USC’s offensive line must protect Booty from sackmasters Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis. UCLA quarterback Patrick Cowan must utilize his arm and his legs to keep the Trojans off balance. He needs help from running back Chris Markey and a receiving corps that cannot be intimidated by a maturing and hard-hitting USC secondary.

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2 Imagine that. Attention Bruins: Playing USC straight up is probably not advisable. If there was ever a time to reach into a bag of tricks, call on creativity or channel Bob Toledo, today might be the day. Most college football observers already have the Trojans and Ohio State squaring off for the national title on Jan 8. A few UCLA surprises executed at the right times might go a long way toward ending seven years of USC dominance. The Trojans must be prepared for the unexpected, and cannot be shy about trying to pull off some of their own surprises.

3 Produce off turnovers. USC was fortunate last week when Notre Dame was able to convert only once after it blocked a punt and intercepted two passes on three consecutive Trojans possessions. If UCLA can force similar miscues and turn them into touchdowns, the Bruins could be positioned for an upset. If UCLA turns the ball over on fumbles or intercepted passes, USC will be making reservations in Arizona.

-- Gary Klein


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