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Rivers is making good on billing

Times Staff Writer

USC linebacker Keith Rivers leaped to break up a pass play, then collided with cornerback Terrell Thomas and fell to the turf.

“Get up!” Thomas demanded, as Rivers lay prone on his stomach during Thursday’s practice. “Get up!”

After a few tense moments, Rivers slowly got to his feet, checked his left ankle and hobbled back to the drill as USC players and coaches exhaled in relief.

“I just tweaked it a little bit,” Rivers said after completing practice. “I’m not worried about it.”

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The top-ranked Trojans, already taking an injury-depleted linebacker corps to Washington, could ill afford to lose Rivers, who is living up to his billing as one of the nation’s top linebackers.

Last week against Washington State, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior from Florida made 14 tackles, the most in a game by a Trojans player since 2003.

Linebackers coach Ken Norton informed Rivers of his total after the game.

“Whenever you think you have a lot, you end up having like five,” said Rivers, a three-year starter at the weak-side spot. “When I came into the locker room, I thought maybe six or eight.”

Against Washington, Rivers and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga will be joined in the starting lineup by senior Thomas Williams, who started six games in 2005 and replaces Clay Matthews at the strong-side spot.

Matthews has a broken left thumb and a sore right shoulder, but he will play against the Huskies. Brian Cushing, who started the season opener, will not make the trip because of an ankle injury.

Williams has been the ultimate utility man throughout his career, playing all three linebacker spots. He also started twice at fullback last season.

Being designated as a starting linebacker is nice but hardly noteworthy, according to Williams.

“Our depth chart is so good, guys are in by the middle of the first quarter,” he said.

USC’s depth, however, is decreasing.

Freshman linebacker Chris Galippo confirmed Thursday that he would have season-ending back surgery for a disk problem and would seek a medical redshirt.

Dr. Robert Watkins will perform surgery on Oct. 9 and Galippo hopes to return for spring practice.

Galippo said he was happy to have gotten three games of experience, including playing at Nebraska, without losing a year of eligibility.

Last season, fullback Stanley Havili redshirted after breaking his leg in the third game.

“This is the best possible scenario for something like this to happen,” Galippo said.

Freshman linebacker Malcolm Smith, who had not practiced because of a hip injury, participated in some drills Thursday and will make the trip to Washington, Coach Pete Carroll said.

Senior Chauncey Washington will start again at tailback. Washington, a senior, rushed for 84 yards in 11 carries and scored a touchdown against Washington State.

Freshman tailback Joe McKnight sat out part of practice and left the field afterward with an ice pack on his right knee after an offensive lineman bumped him. McKnight sat out part of training camp because of a knee bruise. “It just started hurting me. It’s fine now,” he said. . . . Senior center Matt Spanos, who suffered a torn triceps before the season opener, will travel to Washington and could play, according to Carroll.

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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