Johnson keeps going, and Sanchez finds him

Times Staff Writers

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Speedy wide receiver Ronald Johnson struggled to get in sync with USC quarterback John David Booty on deep passes last season.

There was no problem with Mark Sanchez against Virginia on Saturday.

Johnson’s 49-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was the longest of both his and Sanchez’s careers.

“Mark says all the time, ‘Keep running, keep running. I’m going to throw it out there,’ ” said Johnson, who had three catches for 78 yards. “I just kept going and it came down right there.”


Backfield in motion

With so many tailbacks crowding the USC roster, there was considerable speculation as to who would start against Virginia.

On the Trojans’ first play from scrimmage, both C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight lined up in the backfield, but McKnight went in motion, making Gable the official starter for the third season in a row.

It was little more than a week ago that Gable was tackled awkwardly during practice, straining his hip and his ankle, an injury that looked as if it might keep him on the sidelines.


His start in Saturday’s game was largely symbolic because USC passed four consecutive times before Sanchez finally handed off, Gable darting up the middle for 13 yards.

And on a day in which the Trojans shared the ball -- four tailbacks had six carries or more -- it was Stafon Johnson who made the first splash, replacing Gable on that opening drive and carrying two yards for a touchdown.

Steal is stolen

Taylor Mays clutched at his facemask, hopping up and down, clearly upset.


Had the USC safety blown a coverage? Missed a tackle?

It was neither. He explained: “I got robbed.”

Late in the third quarter, Mays was playing center field when Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich threw a pass down the middle. Just as the ball came to rest in Mays’ hands, cornerback Kevin Thomas flashed into the picture.

“I saw his little body come in and steal the ball from me,” Mays said.


Thomas snatched the ball away for the first interception of his college career.

“Whatever,” Mays said. “We got the pick. We won the game.”

Matthews on the move

Clay Matthews made six tackles, including a sack, and also forced and recovered a fumble.


Matthews started the game at rush end, but he also played strong-side linebacker when middle linebacker Rey Maualuga suffered cramps. Brian Cushing moved from strong-side linebacker to the middle.

Maualuga made only two tackles but was playing despite a broken left ring finger he said he suffered during practice early in the week.