Putting It All Together

USC sees a chance to play a complete game when it opens Pac-10 play against struggling Washington State.

The last time USC went to the Palouse, it was the Alamo on Field Turf, a football massacre.

The Trojans blasted the hapless Cougars, 69-0, in 2008, rolling up 625 yards of offense. Quarterback Mark Sanchez tied a school record with five touchdown passes, all coming in the first half. USC attempted one pass in the final two quarters and still put another 28 points on the scoreboard.

These Trojans would like to do the exact same thing when they open Pacific 10 Conference play at Martin Stadium on Saturday (noon, Fox Sports Prime Ticket). In spite of a 3-0 start, this team has yet to deliver on offense, defense and special teams in the same game.

At Hawaii, it was quarterback Matt Barkley, the running game and a Ronald Johnson punt return bailing out the defense. They returned the favor against Virginia as the offense stumbled. With Barkley throwing his first two interceptions at Minnesota, it was Robert Woods' kick return touchdown that sparked USC to pull away.

"We've still got a lot of room to grow," fullback Stanley Havili said. "It's really frustrating. For the group of guys that we have, the athletes and coaching staff we have, we expect big things.

"If all three phases aren't working, we're disappointed."

Against Washington State (1-2), which needed a furious rally to down FCS member Montana State, they see a chance to play a complete game.

"We hope to rotate in a number of guys this week, get through this game with hopefully a win, get to 4-0, come back for our Pac-10 home opener and really have a good grasp of evaluating four games combined with everybody and sitting down Sunday and really figuring out exactly where we're at as a team and where our position groups are and try to be really set," coach Lane Kiffin said.

Uncertainty reigns most notably at running back, where Marc Tyler is still listed as the starter despite being limited in practice all week and Allen Bradford rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns against the Golden Gophers.

"I would anticipate at some point both those guys playing, so we'll figure it out," Kiffin said. "I'd prefer to have one or two guys and not do it by committee. Last week ended up that way because of Marc's fumble."

Adding to the confusion is the presence of freshman Dillon Baxter, who is expected to see his role expand entering conference play.

Whatever the distribution, all three should be able to feast on a defense allowing 184.7 rushing yards per game.

The lone bright spot for the Cougars has been the development of sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel. Tuel, who made his first ever appearance for Washington State last year at the Coliseum in a 27-6 USC victory, has thrown for 700 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception this season.

Freshman Marquess Wilson has emerged as Tuel's top receiver, with 13 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns. His four catches of 40-plus yards are more than any Cougar managed in all of 2009.

Aside from that, the Trojans' biggest challenge might be avoiding complacence. Given the setting – "It's in the middle of nowhere and there's nothing but a football stadium," Barkley said of Pullman – Kiffin expressed concern about manufacturing energy in such a remote setting.

"One of the hardest things to do is get your team motivated when it's not the big national game of the week," he said. "These guys have been so programmed to be in so many of those games, these are the games you worry most about. You're going to go up there and there won't be the energy around like they are used to seeing. It's to take care of ourselves, not worry about what's going on around us and play extremely well regardless of where we're at or what's going on."

Johnson echoed that sentiment.

"It's up to us to go out there and make big plays."


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