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December 1, 2008As Mark Sanchez walked off the field after USC's abbreviated first possession, he had a single thought run through his head.
"I was thinking, 'Man, that's one way to start,'" he said.
The first time Sanchez dropped back to pass, the ball, intended for Patrick Turner, wound up in Notre Dame cornerback Robert Blanton's arms.
Sanchez continued his walk to the Trojan sideline, where he saw offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and offensive graduate assistant Yogi Roth.
Neither man looked all that upset.
"I was like, 'What the hell are you guys smiling for?'" Sanchez said. "I was ticked off."
The message Sanchez got on the bench from Sarkisian and USC head coach Pete Carroll was clear.
Relax. Calm down. Don't worry. Keep your head up. Don't sweat it. Move on.
"The coolest thing about playing in the offense is Sark and Coach Carroll looked me right in the eye and said, 'Hey bro, don't worry about it. Let it rip. Don't even worry about it. Forget about it,'" Sanchez said. "Sark said we were going to throw the heck out of the ball. It's great when they have that kind of trust in you."
And his teammates had the same kind of trust.
"After that happened, it wasn't a big deal," Turner said. "We had to turn the page, and we had to keep playing."
The next 11 passes out of Sanchez's hands were complete. By then, USC had taken a lead over the Fighting Irish that it would never surrender.
"I ripped off a couple of completions right after that," Sanchez said. "I figured I was 100 percent; a ball hadn't hit the ground. Unfortunately, one was to their defender."
He finished 22-of-31 passing for 267 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Trojans' 38-3 win Saturday.
In his performance against Notre Dame, the key to Sanchez's improvement was clear.
"I came out throwing and felt good about it. I felt strong about my reads, and I really put the ball on some guys," Sanchez said. "I feel like I have turned the corner on being able to let plays go. It's still very hard. I hate when plays go wrong. It's important to me to flip the switch and move on."
Instead of piling up on the junior, Sanchez's mistakes didn't bog him down the same way they used to.
Since throwing three interceptions in the third quarter against Arizona State, Sanchez has been picked just three times in 152 attempts, throwing 14 touchdowns in the six-game span.
On the year, Sanchez is completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,525 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Sanchez's 161.6 passer rating is 10th best in the nation.
Against Notre Dame, Sanchez said he felt in the flow. And even though the USC offense hasn't been pass happy very often in the past few weeks, Sanchez is comfortable.
He's cool with the game plan, and he's cool with his mistakes.
"It just felt like I was playing really relaxed and free tonight," Sanchez said, "We got a chance to throw the ball quite a bit, which was nice. Either way, we can run the ball or we can pass. Teams have to prepare for both.
"I'm happy either way."