SOUTHERN CAL 101: An in-depth look at the Trojans

THE SOUTHERN CAL Trojans have cemented themselves as the No. 1 team in the country for nearly a year, now and most sportswriters expect them to remain there for quite a while longer. They have devastated 16 straight opponents by an average margin of 26 points. Worse still, they seem to be getting stronger as the season progresses, outscoring their last two opponents 83-7.

With wins over conference contenders Cal and ASU already under their belts, Trojans fans expect their team to coast to through the rest of the regular season on their way to the BCS title game. But USC has fielded dominant squads in their previous two campaigns as well, and neither of them was able to survive their Pac-10 slate unscathed. In both 2002 and 2003, the Trojans suffered a midseason road loss, and the Cougars could fit the profile for another upset.

When: Saturday, October 31, 4:00 p.m.
Where: Martin Stadium (37,600 capacity)
TV: Live on ABC
Last Meeting: 2003, USC won 43-16
Line: USC by 24
Forecast: Rain, high in the 40s

THE TROJANS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Matt Leinart, QB: The reining conference player of the year, Leinart is noteworthy for his ability to minimize mistakes as much as his capacity for capitalizing on opportunities. Now in his junior year, he has complete command of Norm Chow's offense and has a massive array of weapons at his disposal. He currently has the Pac-10's best touchdown to interception ratio with 16 scores against just four picks.

Reggie Bush, RB: Bush is the most electrifying player in college football. Blessed with blazing speed, incredible balance, and soft hands, he is a threat to score no matter where he lines up on the field. The Trojans incorporate Bush as a receiver, runner, kick returner, and even as a passer in an effort to get him into as many plays possible. He ranks first in the Pac-10 in total offense and is third in touchdowns scored.

LenDale White, WR: White is the thunder to Bush's lightning. The 230-pound bruiser is a lethal combination of speed and power. He ranks fifth in the conference in rushing yards, despite splitting carries with Bush. A blue-collar player that does whatever is asked of him, he provides consistency along with surprising versatility for a big back.

Overview: USC has regained the unstoppable aura they once had in the 1970's. But the modern edition of the Trojan offense is much more than just student body left. They combine a devastating passing attack to go with their powerful running game. Balanced and efficient, the Trojans seem to constantly run on high gear with one eye on the end zone every play. They have a seemly endless bounty of athletic talent on their roster, but if they have a weakness, it is a lack of experienced receivers and offensive linemen. Early entries to the draft along with injuries have left them a little raw here and have forced them to utilize their talented recruits earlier than intended.

Strategy: USC can beat you on the ground or through the air, but offensive coordinator Chow lives for the passing game. Even when the running game is working perfectly, the Trojans seem to get a little uncomfortable when the passing game isn't working. Overall, the Cougars just need to slow the Trojans down and frustrate them any way they can. The Trojans may beat the Cougars on Saturday, but it is well within WSU's capacity to ensure that they don't have any fun in the process. The trip to Pullman from LA is a miserable 5 hour journey, even without any complications. The conditions at Martin Stadium are going to be cold and rainy, and the fans that attend the game will be hostile. If the Trojans do not come into this game mentally prepared, they could get more than they bargained for. The Trojan offense is bigger, stronger, and faster than the Cougar defense, but that doesn't mean they can't be bruised. The Cougar defense has a chance to regain a lot of respect if they come out and hit the Trojans square in the mouth and make their home turf as inhospitable as possible.

THE TROJANS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Shawn Cody, DE: Cody's combination of NFL caliber speed to go with his 285-pound frame is almost unfair to unleash on the college game. He provides a major obstacle for offenses to overcome on every down. He has six sacks through the first six games this year.

Matt Grootegoed, LB: Grootegoed was a semifinalist for the Lombardi and Butkus awards last year and one of the top tacklers in the conference. A four-year starter, he has succeeded more as a result of intelligence and instincts than on raw athletic ability. He currently ranks second on the team in tackles.

Darnell Bing, SS: Bing was an 18-year old starter at the beginning of last season, which is a testament to his freakish athletic ability. He has great speed and range to go along with a heavy-hitting 220-pound frame.

Lofa Tatupu, LB: Just another name in the Trojan's cavalcade of stars. Tatupu is leading the team in tackles for the second straight year, with 54 stops so far this season. Lofa anchors the center of the Trojan D, and seems to get in on every play.

Overview: As with the offense, the Trojans are simply loaded with playmakers and offer a challenging matchup for every opposing offensive player. They run a pretty basic 4-3 system and rely on their athletic superiority and strong fundamentals to give them the edge. Coach Pete Carroll has essentially handed over all offensive responsibilities to Chow and puts all of his expertise into coordinating the defense. The Trojan's defense was ranked first in the country when the Cougars faced them the last two years, and seven starters from last year's squad are still in place.

Strategy: One-dimensional offenses have no chance against defenses this talented. WSU must establish a credible running game to setup some play action passes. When USC makes a mistake—and there won't be many—Alex Brink has to make them pay with touchdowns. Even potent offense's like Cal's haven't had many scoring opportunities against the Trojans, so field goals won't get it done. The Cougars should look to use four downs if they get into the red zone. A few teams have enjoyed first half success against the Trojans, but nobody has outscored USC in the second half of a football game this year. It is the nature of a team this deep in talent to wear offenses down as the game progresses so if the Cougars hope to win, they need to score early.

THE TROJANS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Lost in all the posturing between these two teams is the real heavyweight match up this week: Tom Malone vs. Kyle Basler, part III. The two punters have split their previous two meetings, with Malone out-booting Basler last year. Currently ranked No. 1 and 2 in the conference, Malone overtook Basler last weekend and currently has a league best 45.4 yard average per punt. In a curious statistical coincidence, the punter with the superior average has been on the winning team in both of their previous meetings.

INJURY REPORT
WSU: QB Josh Swogger (out, broken foot), TE Cody Boyd (out, shoulder), DE Matt Mullennix (out, knee), RB Chris Bruhn (out, knee sprain), RB Allen Thompson (questionable, shoulder), WR Greg Prator (questionable, hip), TE Troy Bienemann (probable, shin).
USC: Starting LG John Drake (questionable, ankle sprain), backup QB John David Booty (medical redshirt, elbow), starting WR Steve Smith (out, broken leg), S Scott Ware (questionable, foot)

FINAL THOUGHTS
WSU has three things going for them in this game. First, they have nothing to lose; they can play with reckless abandon and let USC feel the pressure to win the game. Second, USC has little reason to prepare hard for this contest. The Trojans have cruised in their last two games and WSU won't look like much of threat on tape. As a result, USC could start out flat. Lastly, this is going to be difficult road venue for the Trojans to play in. USC hasn't played outside of California in over a month. The conditions in Martin Stadium are going to be miserable: 40 degrees and rainy; much different than anything they've played in this year. Add in two-hour bus ride, some rowdy fans, and a few hits from a very angry Will Derting and some weird stuff just might happen.

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