Maualuga to start vs. ASU; Carroll happy with Sanchez's progress

Updated: October 9, 2008, 2:37 AM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Earlier in the week Rey Maualuga had his doubts whether his sprained right knee would be ready to play in Saturday's game against Arizona State. However, after USC's Wednesday night practice, coach Pete Carroll pronounced the Trojans' star middle linebacker "full go" and said he would start and Brian Cushing would shift over from middle linebacker back to his strongside linebacker spot.

"Rey did great today," said Carroll, who was impressed by the way the 265-pounder chased down ball-carriers in drills and changed directions effortlessly.

Carroll also said he was pleased with the way quarterback Mark Sanchez has responded to his bruised left knee that was injured in the Oregon game last week.

"He threw the ball really well today and he took a third of our team plays, and that's a really good sign," said Carroll.

Sanchez remarked after practice that he was "doing great." He was fortunate, as his father, Nick, explained that he was wearing a knee brace when he went down awkwardly. X-rays and an MRI exam had revealed no ligament damage.

USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said Wednesday he was impressed by the way Sanchez stepped into throws and the way he moved around.

"There was drastic improvement from yesterday," said Sarkisian, adding that it's important to see how the knee responds Thursday to the workload. "Hopefully he'll get more reps tomorrow and he'll keep feeling strong. But I still think it's day-to-day right now."

In August, Sanchez had to recover from a dislocated kneecap in training camp but healed in time to start the Trojans' opener at Virginia. Despite leaving the game against Oregon in the third quarter after being sacked by his former Mission Viejo High teammate Nick Reed, Sanchez still managed to perform well enough to earn Pac-10 offensive player of the week honors for the third time this season. For the season, he has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,069 yards and has thrown 13 TDs against just three interceptions for the eighth-ranked Trojans.

If Sanchez is unable to start, USC would rely on Mitch Mustain, a sophomore transfer from Arkansas, who had been elevated from No. 4 to No. 2 on their depth chart last week.

Meanwhile, in Sun Devil developments, coach Dennis Erickson said quarterback Rudy Carpenter"is very doubtful" for the USC game.

Carpenter, hurt last week in a loss to California, didn't practice Wednesday night due to a hobbled by a left ankle injury.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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