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USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: RIVERS IS MAKING IMPACT.

Byline: MATTHEW KREDELL Staff Writer

Keith Rivers finally is living up to the expectations that come with wearing No. 55 as a USC linebacker.

The play this season that best shows how far Rivers has come was in the fourth quarter twoweeks ago in a tight game against Washington. Rivers seemed to come out of nowhere to leap in front of the tight end and knock away a pass from Isaiah Stanback.

``Keith is way more confident,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said. ``He's playing faster, tackling better and can do more things for us now. We can blitz him, drop him in special coverage, cover tight ends, cover backs. He just gets it more, which comes with experience.''

Rivers entered USC with the chiseled body of a senior, which only raised expectations for him. On the outside, he was ready, and he contributed right away. Carroll used him in key situations to speed rush the quarterback during the Trojans' national championship season.

Asked to do more as a sophomore, Rivers seemed lost at times.

``My freshman year, it was tough for me to pick up the speed of the game,'' Rivers said. ``As a sophomore, I was still learning the game. I grew as a player, and now I feel comfortable in whatever situation I'm put in.''

Now a junior, Rivers is becoming an impact player. He is second on the team in tackles with 41, and has led the team the past two games.

Maualuga incident: Linebacker Rey Maualuga had little to say about his latest run-in with trouble at an off-campus party, though he called the incident a ``misunderstanding.''

``It's a situation that happened, and me and coach Carroll took care of it,'' Maualuga said. ``There's some disciplinary issues that are going on between me and him. ... I ain't got nothing against coach. He's doing the right thing.''

Maualuga was disciplined by Carroll for unruly behavior at a party following USC's game Oct. 7 against Washington.

Carroll said that there was no police or campus security involvement in the incident.

Smith update: Steve Smith is expected to sit out the rest of the week with the sprained ankle that has limited him the past two games, then return to practice Monday.

``We want to make sure we get him through the week without any stress on his foot,'' Carroll said. ``... We're real confident that he's going to make it back provided he doesn't have a setback, so we have to be real careful this week.''

matthew.kredell@dailynews.com

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 19, 2006
Words:423
Previous Article:UCLA FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: COWAN SPEAKS, AND WILL PLAY.
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