August 31, 2008

Injured Trojans heal quickly

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -In the weeks leading up to the season opener at Virginia, USC and head coach Pete Carroll had plenty of injury questions to answer.

There was Mark Sanchez's knee, C.J. Gable's left side, Cary Harris' shoulder and Joe McKnight's fingers, elbow and skin irritation.

Fortunately, none of the injuries were serious enough to keep the four players off the field in USC's 52-7 win over Virginia.

If their recoveries couldn't be complete until they contributed in a game, well, mission accomplished - tenfold.

Sanchez had the best game of his Trojan career, Gable broke things open with a huge run on fourth-and-short, Harris made some nice plays in coverage and McKnight hurt Virginia from all over the field.

Truly Saturday, everything began with Sanchez's play.

He rolled out, scrambled when he had to, made the throws and even threw a big block to help spring McKnight for a first down.

Carroll said Sanchez's injured left knee never looked like a liability.

"It was never a factor at all in practice. I kept saying it, and Mark kept saying it," Carroll said. "Everyone kept wondering how you'd play him and how you'd protect him.

"He was fine. The recovery was extraordinary."

Sanchez walked the thin line separating a pushed recovery and a forced recovery with positive results. The junior quarterback threw for a career-high 338 yards to go along with three touchdowns.

"I felt 100 percent, and that was a big question mark coming into the game," Sanchez said. "We just had a great game plan, and we knew where to throw the ball."

The Trojan offense came out throwing early, but thanks in large part to Gable, the Trojans were able to move things on the ground as well.

Gable came back from hip and ankle injuries suffered on the same play a little over a week before the season opener.

All he did in his return was lead the team in rushing with 73 yards on nine carries with one score.

"I knew I could do it when I'd come back because I was ready," Gable said. "I was sitting out, and I was mad that I wasn't playing. I had to prove I was ready to play.

"I always knew I'd come out and have a big game."

The Trojans (1-0) opened the game with three-straight touchdowns - the third coming when Gable took a pitch on fourth-and-one for 33 yards down the Virginia sideline for a score.

"I just forgot about the injury," Gable said. "I didn't feel a thing."

McKnight's been a lightning rod for injuries through camp, hurting his fingers and elbow and suffering some uncomfortable skin irritation in an awkward area.

Saturday, he shook off any pain to electrify the crowd and shock Virginia(0-1) as a receiver, returner and runner.

"I'm comfortable changing and moving around," McKnight said. "It gets every open, and when they're open, they make big plays…

"I can be a good decoy."

When he wasn't a decoy, he was making Cavalier tacklers look just silly.

"I felt like I could get back; I just had to be patient," McKnight said. "I had to wait.

"Today, there was a sense of urgency to get back out with the team and help us win a national championship."

USC was making plays on defense too, even if they didn't all show up in the box score.

Harris, who separated his shoulder in one of the Trojans' scrimmages, returned to help lock down Virginia's receivers.

Twice in the first half, USC brought pressure, leaving Harris in one-on-one coverage, and twice, Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich tried to complete long passes to Harris' man.

Neither made it there.

The adversity the Trojans suffered in camp helped the team stay focused on a singular goal - get out onto the field and make things happen when the games start for real.|

"Being hurt got us hungrier. Plus, we were ready to play," Gable said. "We've played against each other for too long. Camp was too long for us.

"We got tired hitting each other and needed someone else to get in the way."

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