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Punter is looking to avoid return trips

Times Staff Writer

Greg Woidneck, USC’s unassuming walk-on punter, will find himself in the spotlight today when the fourth-ranked Trojans play 17th-ranked California in a game that will determine the Pacific 10 Conference championship.

Cal sophomore DeSean Jackson has returned four punts for touchdowns and is averaging a nation-leading 20.7 yards a return.

“It doesn’t matter who’s back there, as long as you get a good punt that will make it hard to return,” said Woidneck who is averaging 40.3 yards a kick. “Obviously, he’s an unbelievable punt returner so you need to be consistent and on your game.”

Jackson fielded one punt last season and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. He has scored on returns of 80, 65, 72 and 95 yards this season.

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“I’ve always been one of those people that try to make things happen in the game,” Jackson said. “I always try to show up in big games.”

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USC players are looking forward to watching some of today’s other big game: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan.

The Trojans, third in the Bowl Championship Series standings, could move up to the coveted second spot if they win today.

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“I don’t know if we’re going to have time, but I definitely want to watch,” flanker Steve Smith said.

Tight end Fred Davis grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and is a friend of Buckeyes receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and quarterback Troy Smith.

Davis said he had been to Ohio Stadium numerous times.

“That place is going to be crazy,” he said.

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After a quiet start, linebacker Dallas Sartz continues to make his presence felt for a USC defense that ranks second in the conference against the run and fifth against the pass.

Sartz, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound fifth-year senior, is third on the team with 46 tackles, including a team-best four sacks. He also has recovered two fumbles, forced another and has broken up two passes.

“I’m playing a little better since I let things go a bit,” said Sartz, who redshirted last season after injuring his shoulder in the opener. “I’m not playing so conservatively.”

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Sophomore linebacker Rey Maualuga leads the Trojans with 62 tackles. Junior Keith Rivers, the linebacker corps’ most consistent performer this season, has 61.

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Coach Pete Carroll looks forward to matching wits with Cal Coach Jeff Tedford.

“We’ve played a lot of times now and it feels like the matchups that I used to be accustomed to,” Carroll said. “They know you, and you know what they know and they know what you know and all of that.”

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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KEYS TO THE GAME

1 Run for the Rose Bowl: USC tailback Chauncey Washington said he would play despite a sprained knee, but it appears doubtful that he can repeat last week’s career-best 119-yard rushing effort. C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson or Allen Bradford might have to pick up the slack and, most important, avoid fumbles when pounded by a Cal front seven that includes lineman Brandon Mebane. Running back Marshawn Lynch is Cal’s workhorse. USC gives up only 2.9 yards per rushing play. Lynch averages 6.5 a carry.

2 Deep thoughts: Cal quarterback Nate Longshore loves to throw long to DeSean Jackson and other receivers, so USC defensive backs, especially free safety Taylor Mays, must keep the play in front of them. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson and the front seven also must pressure Longshore. Cal’s secondary will be on the spot against Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. USC quarterback John David Booty struggled early with deep throws, but his touch and confidence have improved.

3 Ain’t that a kick: In case it has been forgotten, kickers played huge roles in two of the last three games between USC and Cal. The Trojans needed three field goals from Ryan Killeen to beat the Bears at the Coliseum in 2004 and they might call on Mario Danelo just as often today. Cal, which won on a field goal in the third overtime in 2003, is prepared with Tom Schneider, who has made 10 of 12 field-goal attempts, including all nine from 49 yards or closer. Note to Trojans: Kicking the ball to DeSean Jackson could be hazardous to their BCS health.

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-- Gary Klein


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