USC 101: A different Trojan team

The Cougars showed improvement last week but the competition is about to take a quantum leap with USC coming to town. But with no bowl game on the horizon due to NCAA sanctions, and the majority of press clippings comparing this year's squad unfavorably to USC teams of the past, how motivated are the Trojans for this matchup? Could a WSU squad hungry for a win level the playing field?

Cougars (1-2) vs Trojans (3-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
12:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (38,500)

TELEVISION:
FSN NW, supposedly

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
USC by 24

LAST MEETING:
2009 in L.A., USC won 27-6.

THE SERIES:
USC leads the series 57-8-4

CF.C PREDICTION:
Trojans 35, Cougars 20

THE TROJANS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Matt Barkley, QB: The sophomore captain has completed an impressive 66 percent of his throws this season and has nine touchdowns through three games. He threw his first two interceptions of the season at Minnesota but still ranks No. 16 nationally in passing efficiency.

Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford, RBs: Sanctions may cost USC in the talent department down the road, but the stable is full at the moment. Tyler is the son of NFL great Wendell Tyler. A very typical USC backfield.

Ronald Johnson, WR: A talented and physically imposing receiver, and he's well complemented by young speedster Robert Woods on the opposing side.

Overview
USC places a ton of emphasis on trying to dominate the offensive line. They will show lots of twin tight end sets and power run formations. Once the defense places their focus on the line of scrimmage, the Trojans will then try and throw deep. Even in non-play action passes, Barkley's initial check is often to a deep route.

Strategy
Stop the run. The linebackers and strong safety will have to place their focus on not letting the ground game march down the field. A safety in the deep zone at all times, however, is also necessary given how often USC and Barkley try to go deep.

THE TROJANS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Jurrell Casey, DT: USC can play swarming defense, and Casey is the center of it. Very athletic for a 300 pounder, he is second on the team in tackles, first in tackles for a loss and has two sacks on the year.

Overview
Not the ultra talent-laden group of years past, but they aren't short on athletes either. As with the offense, this group places a ton of emphasis on controlling the line of scrimmage. They want to force teams into third and long where they assume the classic Monte Kiffen cover-two zone defense. Deflections and turnovers can be commonplace. But the defense also lacks discipline and can give up big plays, as seen in the opener against Hawaii. The Trojans are one of the most penalized teams in the country at 107 yards per game, which goes against the public .

Strategy
Take what they give you. If USC stacks and is determined to have the line of scrimmage, take the game to the flanks with running back and tight end screens, end arounds, any and all creativeness to constitute a running game. In the end, most of the offense's success will inevitably fall on the offensive line, and Jeff Tuel.

THE TROJANS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
USC has octane in their kick return game. Woods and Johnson have already delivered a pair of TDs. The Trojan kickers on the other hand are fairly unremarkable.

FINAL THOUGHTS
For what it is worth, the situation is ideal. The Trojans are squarely in transition and are still establishing their identity under new coach Lane Kiffin. In short, they've looked considerably more vulnerable -- even more than they did last year -- compared to earlier teams this decade. They will not qualify for a bowl game and they may believe they can simply show up to face WSU, reserving their best effort and focus for higher profile matchups. The Cougs on the other hand have to play one of their best games to have any chance, even if USC is "off." A big play by the defense, early on, is mandatory, whether that's a pick, fumble recovery or stop on third down. WSU must make it a game early, and keep it that way throughout, if they are to pull off the big upset.


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