3 Keys to a Trojan Victory

SCPlaybook's Lyle Everett identifies three keys to a Trojan win against Washington State this weekend. The Cougars (1-6, 0-4) have a lot of rebuilding to do and can start the process by playing a fluent game against the conference's most talented bunch. USC has been hit by both illness and injury bugs this week and will be without Joe McKnight, who is out with turf toe.

1) Get Familiar with the "Newbies" –When USC take the field Saturday afternoon, many of the starters will be looking at unfamiliar faces in the huddle and on the sidelines due to injury and illness. It's that time of the year, usually occurring in the middle of a long season as the weather changes and the days get shorter. The amount of hits on your body begins to mount. The next bye is six weeks away. Let's face it, if there is a time to rest your starters, it's against Washington State. The Cougars have given up an average of 55 points per game in conference (UCLA held the average down by only putting up 28 points at home), while scoring only eight. Their lone win was at home to Portland State, who currently stands 2-4 overall in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA).

Joe McKnight, Butch Lewis, Everson Griffin, Allen Bradford, Jordan Campbell, Marc Tyler and Jordan Cameron will not be making the trip to Pullman. Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiva have been dinged up and saw limited practice time during the week. Jeff Byers will give it a go, but his sore knee is a concern. Yet as Pete Carroll prefers to think of it, with every injury comes opportunity and guys like Mike Morgan, Malcolm Smith, Broderick Green, Nick Howell and Tyron Smith will be looking to parlay their playing time this week into future consideration down the stretch run.

2) Protect Mark SanchezSanchez is still not 100% after landing awkwardly while being sacked by high school teammate Nick Reed in the third quarter against Oregon. What would be nice is to get him out of the game by halftime so he can rest his knee and stay out of harm's way. Often time injuries occur when players are kept in a little too long in blowouts (e.g. Beanie Wells vs. Youngstown State). The last thing USC fans want to see is Sanchez re-injuring himself against Washington State.

In order to build a comfortable lead, the offensive line must protect Sanchez in the pocket and give him enough time to find the open receiver in deep crossing routes and sideline comebacks. Sanchez has been deadly efficient in the deep passing game this season, but that kind of attack relies heavily on having time to look deep. With any pressure up front, Sanchez immediately comes off the deep look to the check down, usually to Anthony McCoy or the running back out of the backfield. Such plays are fine, but won't get you off the field in quick fashion. Those plays are mostly reserved for grind-it-out close games, which USC needs to avoid against the conference doormat.

3) Focus – Oddsmakers have made USC a 43-point favorite on the road this Saturday. 43 points! That's an incredible number for a conference game, giving USC a ton of respect while at the same time realizing this Wazzu club could be the worst team in Pac-10 history. But a little over one year ago, USC were 41-point favorites at home against a "terrible" 1-3 Stanford team and we know what happened next. The craziest part of the Stanford loss in 2007 was that it was in the Coliseum. Most of USC's upsets during the Pete Carroll era have been on the road and in tough places to play (Cal, Oregon, Oregon State). Traditionally, Pullman is one of the most difficult places for teams to come in and win. Strange things have been known to happen on the Palouse. SC barely escaped the last time they played up there as Steve Smith capped a 17-play drive that took up most of the fourth quarter. We certainly hope this game isn't anywhere near that close.

Prediction: As much as we can't wait to see Washington State become a competitive force once again, it isn't going to happen for a few years. Recruiting has been down, Paul Wulff has yet to show any of the qualities that got him hired (hard work isn't quite enough, W's are what count), and the fan base has been patiently waiting…but for how long will they have to wait? If Wulff can somehow find a way to burst upon the college football landscape in similar fashion to the way Jim Harbaugh did last year, he would go down as a Wazzu icon. But the great Stanford debacle will not be repeating itself this weekend. Look for USC to come out swinging early, putting up three touchdowns on their first three drives and resting their starters by the beginning of the second half.

USC 55, Wazzu 9

The Trojans are looking to score a big win against Washington State in Pullman, WA.

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