Trojans hope several injured players return soon


For No. 13 Southern California, all these injuries are becoming a pain.

One week, two starting offensive lineman get hurt on the same play, and leading rusher Stafon Johnson goes down as well. The next, quarterback John David Booty breaks his finger. Finally, left tackle Sam Baker and linebacker Rey Maualuga get knocked out of action.

There have been several other injuries as well, so it's understandable the Trojans are just happy to win these days, no matter who they're playing. That was clear last weekend, when they celebrated with vigor after rallying with 10 fourth-quarter points to beat 21-point underdog Arizona 20-13 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"It's just part of the football season," USC coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday. "Everybody has issues. It's not about style points. We have a lot of games left."

USC (5-1, 3-1 Pac-10) takes a break from conference action this weekend, traveling to face offensively challenged Notre Dame (1-6).

Carroll is uncertain about the availability of several players, including: Johnson, who has missed the last two games because of a sprained left foot; Booty, who broke the middle finger on his throwing hand during a shocking 24-23 loss to Stanford; Chilo Rachal and Kristofer O'Dowd, the two offensive linemen injured at Washington, and Baker and Maualuga.

But Carroll did say: "I anticipate we are going to get stronger from this point forward."

The coach said there was no hurry to make a decision on the starting quarterback for Saturday's game. Mark Sanchez filled in for Booty against Arizona, and completed 19 of 30 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.

Wearing a glove, Booty threw several passes in practice Tuesday, and said afterward he believes "there's definitely a shot" he'll be able to play at Notre Dame.

"This was a very good day for John David," Carroll said. "Everybody's a bit surprised. I'm anxious to see what happens tomorrow."

Carroll said he wasn't in a rush to announce who will start at quarterback, saying there was plenty of time to make that decision.

"It felt OK. It's not 100 percent healthy," Booty said. "It was my first time to try longer throws. It tends to stick to the glove a little longer."

Said Carroll: "The glove's the secret."

When asked if he was in any pain, Booty said: "Sometimes there's none, sometimes I bite my lip a little bit. It didn't seem to be anything I couldn't take. It definitely feels a lot better than it did last week. Tomorrow will be the big day, to see how the swelling is. Tomorrow I'll get in a lot more, then Thursday. I'm going to go ice it now."

Regarding the glove, Booty smiled and said: "There's plenty of time to get adjusted to it. I'd love to get rid of it &

the sooner, the better."

Johnson (foot) and Baker (hamstring) have both said they expect to play against Notre Dame, while Maualuga (hip) wasn't nearly as optimistic. Linebacker Brian Cushing, who has been sidelined most of the season with a sprained ankle, also hopes to return.

"In my mind, there's a lot of reason to be real positive about what might come out of this," Carroll said. "We're really not the same guys we were when we started."

Regarding the offensive line, Carroll said: "We'll see who can emerge out of the ashes. We have no depth. We came into the season with 14 linemen which is a couple under where you want to start. It caught up with us. We're scrambling right now."

Baker, Rachal, O'Dowd, tackle Charles Brown and guard Zack Heberer are all listed as possible for this weekend. Center-guard Nick Howell and tackle Martin Coleman definitely won't play.

USC dropped from No. — to No. 2 after beating Washington 27-24; fell to No. 10 after losing to Stanford, and fell three more slots following the Arizona game.

"The concerns are warranted," Carroll said. "Where are we right now? We're just trying to win a football game. Maybe the expectations here have changed a little bit. I can't do anything about the expectations.

"I think we're fortunate to be in a position where such high expectations are surrounding our program. This is a good, challenging time for us."

The game will be USC's first at Notre Dame since the Trojans rallied for a 34-31 victory two years ago, when Matt Leinart scored the winning touchdown with — seconds remaining and a big assist from Reggie Bush's shove.

"You don't forget games like that," said USC cornerback Cary Harris, a seldom-used freshman at that time who's now a starter. "It's a big rivalry &

you don't want to lose to a team like that.

"We have a lot to prove as a team. We haven't been playing the way we want to play."

Regarding all the injuries, Harris said: "It's been a tough go. Luckily, we're stacked at a lot of positions."

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