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September 7, 2008

True freshmen experience debuts

USC's 52-7 win over Virginia afforded head coach Pete Carroll some chances to accomplish some important things.

He got to use three different quarterbacks. Six different running backs carried the ball.

And, more than a handful of Trojans were able to make their debuts.

According to the participation reports, eight different true freshmen took the field for the Trojans, getting their first taste of collegiate competition.

"That was one of the really cool things," Carroll said. "Those guys are going to help us down the road."

Baptism by fire has always been part of Carroll's strategy at USC, giving young Trojans chances to earn early playing time by heaping loads of reps on them during fall camp.

It worked.

"I was already used to it from practicing with these guys. I was overly prepared," freshman defensive tackle Armond Armstead said. "The tempo is really good here so I was ready for the speed of the game."

Armstead, Jurrell Casey and Malik Jackson all saw time in the fourth quarter at Virginia. Jackson made a pair of solo tackles, and Armstead made a solo tackle as well.

Jackson said he wasn't sure what the USC locker room would be like before the game, and he didn't have to adjust much.

"It made me feel a lot more comfortable," he said. "I just sat back, listened to my iPod, put on my socks and went through my routine."

Still, nothing could prepare the players for the rush after running onto the field in front of a record crowd at Virginia's Scott Stadium.

"It was pretty crazy," Drew McAllister said. "That atmosphere was a lot of fun. It was a great environment for me to be in."

Once the game got going, the young players settled in and began to make plays - even if they didn't know which ones to run.

Jackson recorded his first sack of his young career, and after, he reacted strangely to it.

"That was a mistake," he said. "I ran the wrong play."

Still, defensive line coach David Watson said, you can't argue with the results.

"We're all about production," he said. "Sure, you want your guys running the right plays, but he made a play for us."

Armstead said knowing the playbook is an ongoing challenge, but he's ready to contribute.

"Whenever the coaches are ready for me, I'm up for it," Armstead said. "I don't have the defense all the way down, but I'm working on it."

The main adjustment for the young players, though, is the speed of the game.

"The biggest thing was the speed," McAllister said. "When you go from high school to here, even in the summer, it's the first thing you notice. From practice to scrimmage is another step, and from scrimmages to games is an even bigger adjustment."

Things will get even faster, louder and wilder next Saturday, when USC hosts Ohio State. That means a whole new batch of firsts, Armstead said.

It's the first trip through the tunnel, the first sprint onto The Coliseum field and, hopefully, the first home win.

"We're all excited for the next one," Armstead said.


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