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Williams is moved back to linebacker

Times Staff Writer

Thomas Williams received an unexpected early-morning wake-up call at USC’s team hotel Thursday, a circumstance that initially miffed the sleeping junior.

But Williams promptly awakened when he heard Coach Pete Carroll’s voice on the other end of the line.

“He told me a car was coming to pick me up because he needed to discuss something with me,” Williams said.

When Williams arrived at Heritage Hall, Carroll informed him that he was moving from fullback to his original position, linebacker. Starters Brian Cushing and Dallas Sartz are nursing injuries that have prevented them from practicing for Monday’s Rose Bowl against Michigan, making the switch necessary.

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“It’s for insurance, in case we need the help,” Carroll told reporters.

Williams started eight games and played all three linebacker spots in 2005. He voluntarily switched to fullback at the midpoint of this season because injuries had decimated the position group.

“It’s kind of second nature,” Williams said of his return to linebacker. “You don’t forget how to ride a bike.”

Cushing injured his knee last Friday during a mock game before a three-day Christmas break.

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“My flying home and both ways being cramped didn’t help,” Cushing said.

Cushing said he probably would continue to rest but would definitely play Monday.

Sartz has been bothered by a hip injury, but said he would play against Michigan.

“I want to make sure it’s right when I need to get out there,” he said.

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USC’s practices have been open to the public all season, but they’ll be closed starting today.

Asked why, Carroll said: “I just think it’s time to go ahead and close it down.”

Michigan’s practices have been closed since the Wolverines arrived in Southern California.

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Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said there was useful information that could be gleaned from Ohio State’s 42-39 victory over Michigan, but the Buckeyes’ Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was an X factor.

“There’s some stuff in there, but obviously teams are different so you can’t just do the same things, and there’s no doubt Troy Smith made a lot of plays that weren’t exactly the way they were supposed to go,” Kiffin said.

“We’ve had that too with Reggie Bush. So there’s some things you can take from the game, but our quarterback doesn’t quite run like Troy.”

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USC participated in the Lawry’s Beef Bowl after practice.... A group of players later attended USC’s basketball game against Washington at the Galen Center.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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