Players use layoff to mend
USC’s injured players took advantage of the Trojans’ open date, resting and mending during last week’s practices and over a three-day break that ended Sunday.
So when the Trojans begin preparations today for the resumption of their schedule at Oregon State, they will be as healthy, perhaps, as when they played Arizona in the Pacific 10 Conference opener Sept. 23.
Flanker Steve Smith, who sat out last week because of a foot injury, is expected to return along with guard Chilo Rachal and tackle Kyle Williams, among others.
“This is as strong as we’ve been in a while,” Coach Pete Carroll said Sunday.
USC will need every sound body it can muster for the second half.
For the first time since 2001, the Trojans play their last six games without an open date.
The Trojans parlayed second-half schedule breaks into four consecutive Bowl Championship Series bowl-game appearances. In 2003, the Trojans had two open dates in the second half and won their first national title in 25 years.
Carroll discounts the need for a break during the final six games.
“We’ve done everything, mentally and physically, that we can about taking advantage of the midpoint break we just had,” he said. “Everything worked out just fine. It’s time to start playing again.”
USC travels to Corvallis, Ore., and Stanford the next two weeks, then plays Oregon, California and Notre Dame at the Coliseum before concluding the regular season against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
USC’s open date last week apparently cost the Trojans in the BCS standings.
The Trojans fell from second to third. Michigan, a winner over Iowa, moved up to the second spot behind No. 1 Ohio State.
“And here I thought we got better over the bye,” Carroll quipped.
USC is looking for improvement after three victories that were not decided until the opponents’ final possession.
Oregon State knows the feeling.
On Saturday, the Beavers improved to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-10 by intercepting a desperation pass at the one-yard line to preserve a 17-10 victory over Arizona.
After losing their first two conference games against California and Washington State, the Beavers have won consecutive games at Washington and Arizona.
“Hopefully, we can just keep up the momentum and play at home like we’ve been playing on the road,” Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore told the Oregonian after the game.
Oregon State, however, might have lost running back Yvenson Bernard, who left the Arizona game because of an ankle injury after rushing for 107 yards. Bernard is the Pac-10’s second-leading rusher and eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the fourth time this season.
Fog enshrouded Reser Stadium the last time USC played there in 2004, and the Trojans had to come from behind to win. The forecast calls for a chance of rain Saturday.
Carroll said he received updates during UCLA’s game against Notre Dame but had not seen the dramatic finish. The Bruins’ performance in the loss against the Fighting Irish, California’s overtime victory over Washington and Washington State’s win over Oregon should strengthen the Pac-10’s claim to being one of the best conferences, according to Carroll. “It shows you how good everybody is and how solid the competition is from top to bottom,” he said.... Asked whether Trojans players had made it through the three-day break without incident, Carroll said, “I haven’t heard a word. Everything should be fine.” ... Carroll evaluated potential recruits at five games during the break.