Aside from the elements, the Beavers are known to play some scrappy ball at home. 2006 saw the Trojans fall behind early to come up short in the final seconds with a tipped pass of John David Booty's two-point attempt in a 33-31 loss that terminated SC's national championship aspirations. In 2008, USC needs to jump out to a quick lead from which they never look back. If the Trojans can force Lyle Moevao into some bad decisions early, they could reap benefits later by pulling out to a large halftime lead, and maybe even allowing Garrett Green to log some playing time in the 4th quarter. We've seen Aaron Corp, we've seen Mitch Mustain, now let's watch what Green can do with the second string in a four touchdown lead.
2) Step Up in the Absence of Shareece Wright - The USC defense suffered their first real blow of the season yesterday with the announcement that Shareece Wright will miss this game and is likely to miss several others with a hairline fracture of his vertebrae. Pete Carroll has indicated that Josh Pinkard will step into the starting lineup and Kevin Thomas will move up a spot to be first in line in the cornerback rotation. Meanwhile, T.J. Bryant will enter into the mix for the first time.
We know Pinkard to be a reliable, multidimensional player, but perhaps he's strongest suited playing safety rather than running man-to-man in coverage outside of the hash marks. Both Pinkard and Thomas missed last season due to injury and will be tested against the Beavers talented group of receivers.
There is little doubt Oregon State will try to exploit the loss of Wright, so whoever is in the game taking his place for the Trojans will have the spotlight shone on him. How will Pinkard, Thomas and Bryant respond?
3) Exploit Oregon State's Inexperience on D - Oregon State had to replace eight starters on their defense heading into this year, which is a key reason they were beaten at Stanford and blown out in Happy Valley against Penn State. With three games under their belt, the new D-line and linebacker units are feeling more comfortable in their starting roles, but they are still much too inexperienced for USC not to take advantage of. SC's O-Line has come up huge in the first two games of 2008, and their excellent play must continue Thursday night. They cannot afford to underestimate their opponents and play down to the level of their competition. They must treat the Beaver rookies just the same as they did the veteran bunch of Ohio State.
Oregon State's best defensive players are their corners, so look for their coaching staff to depend heavily on them outside, leaving them one-on-one with SC's receivers while blitzing their linebackers and safeties to support the sub par D-line. SC's running backs must pick up their assignments and if Sanchez calls for max protection, USC's tight ends must stay in to protect. The crowd will be loud and it will be tough for the line to hear every call from Sanchez. Look for Oregon State to blitz him early and force him into uncomfortable situations. If OSU can seize the early momentum with the frenzied crowd behind them donning all orange, perhaps that can spark them to a coveted early lead.
Prediction: If Oregon State happens to win the early battle for turnovers and end up controlling the clock, they could ride the momentum from their crowd into the second half. But even if they do, nobody in the nation makes better halftime adjustments than Pete Carroll and his staff. This is a focused, detail-oriented USC team that has learned from the mistakes of their recent predecessors. They no longer play down to the level of their competition or look ahead on the schedule. They do not let opportunities pass them by. Pete Carroll harps on this every day in practice. He has done a magnificent job of keeping them focused on the task at hand, week by week. This week is business as usual.
USC 34, Oregon State 10