If USC redshirt freshman quarterback Mark Sanchez was in need of a confidence boost he could get it just by looking at his receivers.
"As soon as I got nervous I looked left and there's (All-American candidate) Steve Smith and I look right and there's (All-American) Dwayne Jarrett," Sanchez said after Sunday's Trojan Huddle spring football scrimmage. "I thought, 'OK, these guys are going to make me look good.''
No doubt. But Sanchez didn't do too badly on his own. Even though the Offense I team he directed lost 22-19 to Offense II, Sanchez completed 13 of 21 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown primarily against the starting defensive unit.
"I thought Mark Sanchez handled himself real well," Trojans coach Pete Carroll said. "He's gotten experience with every single step this spring. (Sunday) was the biggest test of all."
Junior Michael McDonald also had an excellent performance, hitting 19 of 27 passes for 191 and three touchdowns. But ever since junior John David Booty suffered a back injury that forced him out of spring drills, it has been clear Sanchez was the leading candidate to replace Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart.
At least, he is until fall when Booty is expected to be back competing for the job.
Carroll never doubted Sanchez' arm strength, but wanted to see he would function within the offense and under pressure from the defense, which mixed up coverages and pass rushes.
"I want to see him get command of the situational stuff," Carroll said. "I thought he handled it fine."
Sanchez did, too.
"I think I played all right within the system," he said. "The receivers made me look good and the offensive line was great. I was only touched one time."
Tailback was another story. The departures of NFL-bound Reggie Bush and LenDale White and the knee injury to Herschel Dennis have left a big void at the traditionally dominant position. Converted fullback Ryan Powdrell broke off a 51-yard run and Brandon Hancock ran 15 yards for a touchdown, but the other 29 runs by the day's top four rushers netted just 86 yards.
That position will be bolstered this fall either by the return of Chauncey Washington, who is academically ineligible this spring, or the arrival of heralded freshmen Stafon Johnson and Emmanuel Moody, both Rivals.com top 100 prospects.