Receivers need to get a grip
USC’s receivers, a question mark before the season, know they remain on the spot today when the 10th-ranked Trojans play Arizona in a Pacific 10 Conference game at the Coliseum.
Last week’s stunning 24-23 defeat by Stanford once again included several drops and imprecise route-running by a mostly inexperienced group that has struggled with consistency.
Junior split end Patrick Turner, who dropped three balls against Nebraska on Sept. 15, dropped three more against Stanford, short-circuiting several drives.
Turner also made some outstanding plays and caught a team-best nine passes for 83 yards.
“Everything that comes to me, I should get,” said Turner, who has a team-leading 25 receptions. “When I don’t, that’s on me.”
Freshman David Ausberry, who did not catch a pass against Stanford, said receivers were aware of the scrutiny from the media and fans, but were not affected by it.
“We’ll get better, things are going to turn around,” he said. “We’re not really worried about people talking.”
The most surprising aspect of USC’s recent rash of offensive line injuries might be that Jeff Byers is not among the wounded.
“After four surgeries you learn how to take care of your body,” said Byers, a fourth-year junior.
Byers was recruited as a center but has started only once there. The first two games this season he played left guard, then was at center for the first series against Washington State because freshman Kris O’Dowd had been late for a team meeting.
Byers has started the last two games at guard, but he could be at center again today because O’Dowd is still recovering from knee surgery and Matt Spanos’ status is uncertain because of stitches in his right hand.
Kicker David Buehler said he would have been ready to attempt a possible game-winning 56-yard field goal last week against Stanford if the Trojans had driven into range in the final seconds.
“My leg was feeling really strong,” said Buehler, who kicked a 49-yard field goal against California last season. “I had actually tried some 56-yard field goals before the game.”
Buehler said he told graduate assistant Yogi Roth, “Get the ball to the 40 and I’ll try 56.”
USC was at its own 34-yard line before Stanford intercepted a fourth-down pass at the Cardinal 35, ending the Trojans’ final possession.
Buehler said he watched former Arizona kicker Nick Folk win Monday’s game for the Dallas Cowboys by making a 53-yard field goal against Buffalo. He did it twice, in fact, after a Bills timeout just before the snap negated his first successful attempt.
“I’ve worked with him a few times,” Buehler said. “I actually went on Facebook after the game and wanted to tell him what a great job he did. He’s in the league, which is where I want to be someday, and he knows what’s happening.”
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KEYS TO THE GAME
No. 10 USC (4-1, 2-1) vs. Arizona (2-4, 1-2) Today, Coliseum, 12:30 p.m. TV: Channel 7. Radio: 710, 1330
1. Quarterback play. Third-year sophomore Mark Sanchez must display poise and not try to force throws in his first start for the Trojans. At the same time, Sanchez needs to take advantage of his mobility and make plays. Arizona’s Willie Tuitama must avoid interceptions and fumbles that could shorten the field for USC.
2. Offensive line. Though thinned by injuries, USC must establish its running attack and rebound from last week’s four-sack game by providing Sanchez with some breathing room. Arizona ranks 111th nationally in rushing, a situation that must improve or Sedrick Ellis and Co. will tee off on Tuitama, who was sacked eight times by Oregon State.
3. Turnovers. The Trojans rank 106th nationally in turnover margin (minus-1.40). Sanchez must take care of the ball and the defense cannot waste opportunities at interceptions. Arizona needs the Trojans to continue their trend while addressing its own issues that have resulted in a minus-.50 turnover margin.
-- Gary Klein
Go beyond the scoreboard
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