October 3, 2008

Sanchez could lead Trojans to redemption

The best baseball teams have one guy they can turn to when things are going rough. There's that one pitcher a manager can count on to stop a losing streak.

He doesn't have to have the best stuff or the best command. He just doesn't want to lose and he won't let his team lose.

Pete Carroll may have one of those guys on his roster, and it's the player under center, junior quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez and the No. 9 Trojans host No. 23 Oregon Saturday at the Coliseum at 5 p.m.

After losing to Oregon State in USC's Pac-10 opener, Sanchez showed Carroll just how serious he is about winning - because of how he handled the loss.

"He took it hard," Carroll said. "He's the kind of person that feels responsible, and he doesn't mind shouldering that responsibility."

In facing Oregon, Sanchez has twice the opportunity for redemption. For one, he can make sure USC doesn't suffer its first two-game losing streak since 2001.

Sanchez also can make sure the Trojans don't lose to a Pac-10 team in consecutive seasons for the first time under Carroll.

Against Oregon, Sanchez completed 26-of-41 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. He also was intercepted twice.

The Ducks are the first team to get a second look at Sanchez, and he expects Oregon to be ready for him.

"They have all the film to watch. They scheme us well," he said. "They have great athletes in the secondary again. I have to be careful with the ball and cautious. When we get our plays have to connect, and I can't miss on the big ones."

In practice this week, Sanchez didn't miss too often, finding his best targets, Patrick Turner, Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson, for big plays down the side and over the middle of the field.

Playing with some bumps and bruises hasn't slowed Sanchez's infectious attitude. Even more so than usual, there's an extra bounce in his step. He jokes with his coaches and his teammates.

He goofs around with the media. He's ready.

Six starts in, Sanchez's tenure as Trojan quarterback has produced some positive measurables, notably 17 touchdown passes.

But the things that make Sanchez the Trojan's stopper are the intangibles. It's his grasp of the offense, his ability to make his teammates better and his calm.

He's been studying the Trojans loss at Oregon last season, and USC's loss last week to Oregon State.

"I know what to expect," Sanchez said.

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