"We're really, really excited about the [Las Vegas Bowl]. It's great to be in a bowl game," head coach Mike Riley said. "I've heard a lot of great things about the Vegas bowl and how teams are treated down there."
The Beavers will be trying to pick up their first win in Los Angeles since 1960 when they blanked the Trojans 14-0. The task will be difficult with the Men of Troy looking to make a statement and solidify their position in the BCS. "It will be very hard. This is an outstanding team; there's a reason they're No. 2 in the nation right now," Riley said. "It provides a lot of challenges and we'll have to play very, very well. But we've been pretty resilient during the year in coming back from disappointments, so I'm looking forward to the game and I think our team is, too."
Oddsmakers in Las Vegas have the men in black as 21 point underdogs, and for good reason. The Beavers carry a two game Pac-10 road losing streak and have only won three times in 46 tries at the Coliseum. Riley is also 0-2 versus USC, while USC head coach is 2-0. "I think we all realize we'll be underdogs in the game," Riley said. "If we get prepared and go down there and make plays and play well, then we'll have an opportunity in the ball game - that's just how we're looking at it."
On both sides of the ball the Trojans feature tremendous athletes. Nine USC starters were recently named to the All-Pac-10 team. On offense, quarterback Matt Leinart has had a solid season passing for 2,951 yards and 30 touchdowns with just seven interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes. "He doesn't make many mistakes, he throws the ball to open players and he plays error-free ball," Riley said. "There's an efficiency there, his efficiency rating has been high all year, and that lends itself to that continuity in their offense."
Leinart's favorite target is wide receiver and All-Pac-10 player Mike Williams who has caught 80 passes for 1,167 yards and 14 touchdowns. "He's hard to defend man-on-man," Riley explained. USC also features another outstanding wide receiver in Keary Colbert who has caught 60 passes for 846 yards and seven touchdowns.
The backfield is filled with several talented running backs including sensational freshman LenDale White who leads the team with 694 yards and 12 touchdowns. "They use the backs out of the backfield a lot like we use Steven Jackson, so there are other weapons there," Riley said. "It's really hard to say 'We're going to take this guy out of the game and everything's going to be okay.' That's not the case when you're playing USC."
One of the keys to the game will be the Oregon State ground game. OSU has a 16-2 record when Steven Jackson rushes for over 100 yards. But the task will be hard as the Trojan defense features a dominating defensive line anchored by All-Pac-10 players Kenechi Udeze, Shaun Cody, and Mike Patterson. Riley knows the Beavers must keep the game close early to give his team a chance to win.
Another key will be the orange and black special teams which have been depleted due to injuries. With linebackers Jason Lowe, Seth Lacey, safety Harvey Whiten, and cornerback Jamaal Jackson injured, the Beavers have almost no depth in special teams. "We'll prepare hard. But the big thing we have a hard time dealing with right now is some lingering injuries which have depleted our depth at linebacker," Riley said. "That has residual effects on special teams and things like that. There are [positions] where we were real deep early in the year and felt good about it; we're down to the bare minimum right now."
Despite the oddsmakers and Trojan fans almost guaranteeing a victory the Beavers will give it their best shot in L.A. "We'll see how it all plays out," Riley said. "We'll need every bit of what we've got to compete in this ballgame. They have absolutely dominated and blown out most everybody they've played since that Cal game, so we'll need it all. We don't need to be superhuman, but we need to play our best. So we'll need every bit of a mental edge and physical edge we can get."