Bring 'em on!
The USC Trojans have played in Corvallis just thirteen times in the 68-game history of the series and just three times since 1995. USC has brought a national ranking and a winning streak to the Mid Valley two of the past three games. This year is no different as the Men of Troy are ranked number one in the country and are riding a 17 game (12 conference and 9 road game) winning streak.
Oregon State has played a number one ranked USC team five times with three of those contests being played in Reser Stadium. (1981: 56-22, USC | 1979: 42-5, USC | 1967: 3-0, OSU) The Beavers have chance to even their record at 2-2 against a number one ranked USC team in Corvallis but will have to put together a complete game on both sides of the ball to pull off an upset.
"It is a big challenge and also a great opportunity for our football team," head coach Mike Riley said. "The Trojans are very, very good at every phase, a very balanced football team, a lot of speed. For us, it's another one of those games we deem as just a great opportunity to go play and play extremely well and play for 60 minutes."
Playing extremely well will include putting pressure on quarterback Matt Lienhart, limiting all-world player Reggie Bush's big plays, and giving Derek Anderson enough time to throw. Another task will be keeping defensive tackles Shaun Cody, who leads the team with seven sacks, and Mike Patterson, who leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and four recovered fumbles, out of the OSU backfield.
"Those two guys are very, very good, very active," said Riley who is 0-3 versus USC while at OSU. "They try, a lot of times, to get them both very wide, playing on the guards and isolate those guards. That's a smart tactic."
The Beaver running game could struggle against the Pac-10's number one rushing defense. USC is giving up just 71.0 yards per game while OSU is gaining just 83.9 per game. The Trojans lead the conference in sacks (35), are first in scoring defense, second in pass defense, and first in turnover margin. It is a good thing the men in black have the number one passing attack in the conference - and lately Anderson has been playing well.
The Scappoose kid has only thrown one interception in the last three games and has, for the most part, made good decisions. During the three game winning streak Anderson has thrown for 805 yards and seven touchdowns, including one on the ground. Anderson also played valiantly on the road last year in Los Angeles where he threw for 485 yards, the second most ever against USC. He knows he can be successful against the number one team in the country, which will help him mentally before and during the game.
"I think he's had three very good games in a row and managed our team to victories in the last three games," Riley said. "It was fairly disruptive in our last ballgame early with the blitzes, and I thought he handled that and made some good plays out of what could have been bad plays, and has not thrown interceptions. I've been very, very pleased with his play."
Much of Anderson's second half success can be attributed to his better decision making process, the better play by the offensive line, and playing against bad teams. And even though the running game is not putting up big numbers, the success the team has had running the ball in the second half has helped tremendously.
"Even though it's been rather meager, in some regards it's been good for us in that we've run the ball better and that has given us a chance to manage the game more balanced," Riley said. "We've grown in our offensive line and those guys are getting more and more experience and they're hard workers."
With the offense improving every game since the bye week the team has lots to be excited about, especially the defense who has started to force some turnovers. Through the first five games of the season they managed just nine turnovers, in the last three games the defense has snatched seven interceptions and recovered seven fumbles. The defensive line has also stepped up as they have grabbed 11 sacks in the last three contests after managing just five through the first games.
"I've liked our group from the beginning; they're very competitive and gaining, throughout the group, more and more awareness," Riley said. "We have the ability to make plays back there (secondary) and all those things. We'll have our biggest challenge, for sure, and we'll be isolated some and have to cover and make plays, but that's a group I have confidence in."
Linebacker Jonathan Pollard is questionable for the game, but Chaz Scott filled in nicely down in Tucson and will do the same in Corvallis.
After starting out the season 1-4, the Beavers have battled back to five hundred and have a chance at tearing down the goalposts. Hardly anyone is predicting an OSU victory, but Riley's team has heart and determination.
"You have to appreciate the kids' resilience and perseverance," Riley said. "Those things (in a 1-4 start) all begin to weigh on themselves, for sure. I appreciate the fact that we stayed with it and played well enough at Washington to get the win, and played a little better the next week. Now we've at least climbed back to .500 and given ourselves a chance in this fourth quarter of the season to make something good happen."
And the Beavers just may make something good happen. They were in a similar situation at the beginning of the football season and nearly pulled of an upset. It was rainy in Baton Rouge and it will probably be rainy in Corvallis - hopefully the outcome will be different.
"We are at a point now that we have probably played our best, most-consistent football throughout the year in the last three ballgames," Riley said. "And our team has risen to the occasion previously in what was perceived as an overmatched football game, and we came up short in that ballgame. I think this team is better than that team."
Riley on Lienhart: "He's got tremendous poise. He manages a game and a team very well. He appears to make great decisions, so he's smart and well-prepared, both. He gets rid of the ball quickly when he has to, and he throws very accurately. He's nifty enough to be an athlete back there. He's got a lot of stuff going for him."
Riley on Bush: "He's very effective when he does get the ball, and he's a tremendous returner, we have a lot of respect for him in that area. He's a great receiver and he's a very good runner. He's as versatile football player and he can do it all. And because of how they use him, they're looking for matchup problems, that's what their game is with him, and he presents problems with it."