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August 20, 2006Quarterback Mark Sanchez has three quarters of fall camp under his belt, but after Thursday night's scrimmage at the Coliseum, it appears the offense's best football will come during the second half of August.
With the focus on today's final scrimmage, a date with the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville looms.
Thursday night, Sanchez led the Trojans' second team offense to an impressive performance through the air. Completing 7-of-14 passes, Sanchez threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Although the redshirt freshman quarterback threw one interception that was returned for a touchdown, the consistency missing in the Trojans' passing game was suddenly found.
"It felt great to be out there," said Sanchez. "It's always fun to come out to the Coliseum and play under the lights. Coach Carroll makes it paramount that we play our best football in front of the home crowd.
"During this last scrimmage, I felt like we were firing on all cylinders. The receivers looked good on some one-on-one routes, and the o-line held tight even though the defense was coming hard. They did blitz more and Nick Holt has obviously lit a fire in them."
Holt's new 3-4 defensive scheme forced both Sanchez and John David Booty to move out of the pocket during Thursday's scrimmage. With USC's linebackers usually leading the chase, Sanchez highlighted Brian Cushing as a player whose outstanding performances have slowed down the offense's progress.
"I hate for it to sound like I'm pumping up my roommate, but he's been playing great in camp," said Sanchez of Cushing. "LJ (Lawrence Jackson) has been out, so he's gotten a look at linebacker and that defensive end spot, which he's never played before.
"He's got a motor and has been making plays all over the field. Then you have Rey (Maualuga) and Oscar (Lua) who are playing big. The secondary as a whole has also played well."
Cary Harris is one player in particular who continues to strike fear in the hearts of the Trojan quarterbacks.
"When you throw anything into the flat, Cary Harris is a guy you have to watch out for," said Sanchez. "All the defensive backs we have are fast, but he's the fastest.
"Now he's coming into his own and he should have a breakout season. It's also great to see him out there doing multi-purpose stuff. He's going to be very valuable returning kicks."
As a quarterback, Sanchez has a unique perspective on USC's running game. While Emmanuel Moody, Allen Bradford, C.J. Gable and Stafon Johnson have all played well as true freshmen, Sanchez admits that USC still expects junior Chauncey Washington to receive the majority of carries this season.
"It's been running back by committee these first three scrimmages," said Sanchez. "But you know, we're excited to have that kind of talent to play with. Everyone of those guys have their own distinct style of running, although I do think Chauncey will take the bulk of the reps once he's healthy."
The freshmen may be fast, flashy and fearless, but Sanchez points out that great running backs make plays even when the ball isn't in their hands.
"With the freshmen, Todd McNair is trying to instill in them the importance of pass protection," said Sanchez. "They can all take the handoff for big yards, but they also have to play a vital role in pass protection.
"It's important for them to get some YAC (yards after catch) on check-downs too. Maybe there's a play that would go for a loss, but these guys have the ability to make something out of nothing if they understand the passing game.
"We're still trying to iron that stuff out, but overall, the freshman backs have done a good job."
With just two days in between scrimmages, the offense will use film study as their main avenue to improve from Thursday's performance. But according to Sanchez, all this Ferrari needs is a hand wash and some hot wax.
"We have to learn a lot from each scrimmage," said Sanchez. "For me, it's about knowing the personnel, getting some completions and moving the chains. Now we're really starting to play because the installation of new plays is over.
"We're not making anything else up, so I can just focus on playing. This last scrimmage helped me take another step toward that, and the scrimmage Sunday will take it further.
"We have to clean up the little nuances of the game, like getting set with time left on the play clock, but we're getting there. It's all about fine tuning at this point."
USC will hold its final scrimmage today at at 7:45 p.m. The scrimmage will be held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and is open to the public free of charge.
Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for full scrimmage coverage, including photos, interviews, analysis and video.
USCFootball.com will also host its first preseason tailgate. Free food and drinks will be provided courtesy of the USCFootball.com RV.
Click here for further details.