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Wednesday News and Notes

O'Dowd Front and Center

With Matt Spanos going down to a Torn Triceps Freshman Kris O'Dowd was literally front and center in the season opener against Idaho. The coaching staff praised his maturity on the line but still saw room for improvement.

So while USC freshman Kristofer O'Dowd earned positive reviews last week for his flawless exchanges with quarterback John David Booty, coach Pete Carroll looked deeper and saw room for improvement.

Specifically, Carroll said O'Dowd needs to improve his blocking calls at the line of scrimmage, and this week the coach called upon some of the more veteran linemen to give O'Dowd some assistance.

"We just made the calls wrong," Carroll said. "It was classic, with having the new guy in the middle. He made some calls that were great calls, but just at the wrong time. The things that he blocked, he blocked really well, but it just wasn't the right call for the situation. We're working on the communication."

After center Matt Spanos tore his right triceps and Carroll decided to keep Jeff Byers at guard, O'Dowd had only one full day of practice as the first-team center before last week's game against Idaho.

O'Dowd has been seen the coaching staff as one of the more mature freshman the program has ever had. It seems that he stepped right up and took control of the situation. He is going to have his work cut out for him with Nebraska but there is no reason to believe that he won't be as effective as we saw against Idaho.

Havili is Key

Stanley Havili really showed his worth in the Idaho Game and he further proved just how important the fullback position is. His ability to block and catch some short passes opened things up for the tailbacks.

Nine marquee players, every one of them on scholarship and a former high school All-American, all fighting for the same opportunities to carry the ball for one of the most prestigious programs in the country.

Yet Stanley Havili stands in front of all of them.

In fact, the former two-time all-state star from Cottonwood High School might be even more important to the No. 1 Trojans' dream of winning their third national championship in five years than any of the flash-and-dazzle poster boys who line up behind him.

After all, he's the fullback who blocks for them - never mind catches passes out of the backfield, protects quarterback John David Booty from blitzes and has earned his share of carries as the Trojans approach their first test of the season at No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday.

"He adds a whole other dimension to our offense," Booty said.

It was a dimension the Trojans lacked last season, when Havili - then, just a true freshman only months removed from an intense recruiting battle - broke his leg while making the first start of his career and had to watch from the sidelines as his teammates finished an 11-2 season. That would have been a triumph for almost anybody except the Trojans, whose championship hopes were derailed by losses to Oregon State and UCLA.

That is a dynamic that is awesome to have as was noted in the article. His ability to stay healthy will play an important role not only in SC's game against Nebraska but also in the games to come. Havili being out was more evident in the ucla game than in the Oregon State game because SC was able to put some points up on the board against the Beavers but obviously not against ucla.

Take Their Legs Out

Sounds like a mob hit. With Bill Callahan trying to downplay this weekend's game against USC he may have forgotten to tell his players that they should lay low and keep their mouths shut. Now, I wouldn't call it billboard material but it seems that Nebraska offensive lineman Matt Slauson seems to have his own opinions on the game against USC this weekend.

Last year, when Nebraska lost 28-10 at USC, Slauson admitted some Huskers went into the game "scared."

He assured that won't be the case this time around.

"After playing them, and playing Auburn, and playing Texas, we can play with whoever comes to us," Slauson said. "It's all about us now. We have to do what we have to do and the other team isn't a factor for us."

Last year, Callahan took some criticism from some fans and media for being overly conservative and running the ball too much.

"I don't disagree with what he did," Slauson said. "He's a lot smarter than me. Obviously, he knows what he's doing. And really, people criticize him in everything. That's just going to come."

And for those who hope to see nothing but Air Callahan this time around against USC, they might be in for a disappointment.

"Our biggest goal is to take their legs," Slauson said. "Oregon State (last year) did well with that. USC came out and they were flying around when you're watching in the first quarter. Then watching in the fourth quarter, it's a completely different team."

SC does have some players that go all out so it doesn't surprise me when some of our players run out of gas at the end of the game. I'm fine with Slauson making some observations but what he seems to forget is that while this game won't be a cakewalk in Lincoln but SC has had their share of big games too and they will come to play. If Nebraska plays as haphazard as they did against wake it could be a long day for the Huskers. We'll see how it goes.

Cushing Still on the Mend

Wolf is reporting on his blog that Brian Cushing will be a game time decision.

Cushing Setback?

Linebacker Brian Cushing (sprained ankle) is now considered a "game-time" decision. He was supposed to practice today but was held back from any live practicing.

Cushing said he cannot cut.

Then he posted this:

More Cushing

"There's a big difference in just walking and coming out here and running," linebacker Brian Cushing said. "I think it's about 85-90 percent so I have a chance to play."

Clay Matthews starts if Cushing is unable to play.

So we will see how it goes though I suspect that Cushing will play and probably start.

So Which is it?

There are some conflicting stories about the benefits, or lack there of, with USC having a bye week so early in the season. Pete Carroll knows what he is doing so I am not going to question how he plans his schedule.

From the Daily Trojan:

Beyond being unbearable for Trojan fans craving to cover themselves in cardinal and gold on Saturdays, USC's bye week has hurt the team's national perception and in the polls.

But it's perception only. In reality, this is the same Trojan team, same Heisman-candidate quarterback, same stifling defense, that prompted Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to call it potentially the best ever at Pac-10 media day.

Unfortunately, it is primarily perception that drives and shapes these subjective polls that, come season's end, crown a national champion.

Thus far, this season has reinforced the ineffectiveness of college football polls as per their ability to predict future outcomes and standardize the sport.

And with an impressive number of Davids beating Goliaths in the first two weeks, highlighted by preseason No. 5 Michigan's already historic collapse against division 1-AA Appalachian State, causing the Wolverines to take the largest single week plunge in the rankings, the skepticism of polls is understandable.

Then there is this from Maisel at ESPN:

Both Trojans head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian spoke of the benefits of having an off week after the opener. Carroll likes it so much that this is the fourth consecutive season that USC has set up the schedule this way.

"It's kind of a nice thing," Carroll said. "It's such a big deal to play that first game and then you get a chance to regroup and get ready again."

Sarkisian used redshirt freshman wide receiver David Ausberry as an example. Ausberry, who made five catches for 46 yards against the Vandals, played hard and played fast in his first start, Sarkisian said, but has spent the week-plus of practices focusing on "the details of some shorter routes."

It's as close as Carroll, a longtime NFL coach, will ever get to having a preseason game in college football. That's why he likes it.

I could care less about the polls and I don't see OU or LSU staying undefeated so even if SC loses one game there is a good chance that SC would still be in the hunt. The bye week gave the coaching staff an opportunity to regroup and take a look at personnel decisions. The obvious benefit of resting the injured is there but this is the way that Pete Carroll likes to play it so that's fine with me.