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Johnson gets it going early

Times Staff Writers

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Freshman Ronald Johnson continued to be a productive kickoff returner and added to his resume with a long pass reception Thursday during 11th-ranked USC’s 44-24 victory over seventh-ranked Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium.

Johnson returned the opening kickoff 49 yards to set up a touchdown. He caught the ball in the end zone and brought it out despite visible instruction from Desmond Reed not to.

“He told me to stay in, but I already crossed the line so I had to take off,” said Johnson, who averaged 30 yards for three returns. “I was like, ‘Uh-oh, got to go.’ ”

Johnson nearly scored on a 33-yard catch in the second quarter, but officials ruled that his body hit the ground before the ball crossed the goal line. Quarterback John David Booty eventually scored on a one-yard sneak for a 27-17 lead.

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“I thought I was in,” Johnson said. “We capitalized and scored, so that’s all that matters.”

After Johnson returned the opening kickoff 49 yards, Arizona State’s Rudy Burgess did even better. Burgess, a 5-10, 188-pound senior from Edwards, Calif., took David Buehler’s first kick 98 yards for a touchdown.

It was only the second Sun Devils kickoff return for a touchdown at home in 21 years and the first for Burgess.

On his second return of the game, Burgess became the all-time Arizona State leader with 1,269 career kickoff return yards.

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“It doesn’t matter much,” Burgess said. “We lost.”

USC offensive tackle Sam Baker started but was rested throughout the game to prevent further injury to his left hamstring.

Linebacker Keith Rivers (ankle) was available but did not play. Kaluka Maiava, who started in his place, finished with a team-best 10 tackles.

Linebacker Michael Morgan (ankle), running back Hershel Dennis (quad strain) and defensive tackle Fili Moala (concussion) suffered injuries, USC officials said.

Arizona State’s Thomas Weber, a redshirt freshman, is one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award given to the nation’s top kicker. He had a streak of 17 straight field goals made earlier this year.

He had a rough night punting against the Trojans, though. His first went only 28 yards and USC scored a field goal on the drive that started on the Trojans’ 46-yard line. His second went only 31 yards and the Trojans scored another field goal on a drive that started at the Trojans’ 45.

Former USC quarterback Matt Leinart and offensive lineman Taitusi Lutui visited the Trojans at their team hotel Wednesday night.

Leinart and Lutui play for the Arizona Cardinals.

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Leinart, winner of the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, 1981 Heisman winner Marcus Allen and Charles Barkley were among the celebrities on the sideline for the game.

The Sun Devil Stadium grounds crew paints something different on the field for every home game.

On Thursday, in a salute to the Thanksgiving Day holiday, they added a turkey leg to the Sun Devil’s pitchfork at midfield.

Senior USC nose tackle Sedrick Ellis and freshman Kristofer O’Dowd were selected as honorary captains for the game, joining Booty, Baker, defensive end Lawrence Jackson and Rivers.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

diane.pucin@latimes.com


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