Southern Cal 101: Ball control is Cougar key

SINCE LOSING TO Washington State in a classic showdown at Martin Stadium in 2002, the USC Trojans have gone on a remarkable 40-1 run. The sleeping giant that actually finished in the Pac-10 gutter just five years ago has emerged as college football's quintessential dynasty.

The Trojan offense is glittered with All-Americans and defensive guru Pete Carroll has recruited yet another stingy D. Only a few computers and a handful of Texas pollsters even contest whether the Trojans are the nation's top team. Ranked No. 1 by after consecutive national titles (AP), three BCS bowl wins, and 29 straight victories, the Trojans are actually a disturbingly young team, with the starting roster featuring 17 underclassmen. So the run of success might not end anytime soon.

Cougars (3-4) vs. Trojans (7-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT

WHERE:
Los Angeles Coliseum (grass)

TELEVISION:
Live regional broadcast on ABC with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts on the call

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

THE LINE:
USC by 30

THE SERIES:
The Trojans have won two consecutive following WSU's 30-27 win in 2002.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Trojans 56, Cougars 24


Now the Trojans play host to a WSU team licking its wounds from four straight heartbreaking losses. The Cougs should expect the same kind of hospitality the Romans gave the Christians when they enter the Coliseum on Saturday.

THE TROJANS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Matt Leinart, QB: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Leinart was projected to be the first pick in last spring's NFL Draft. Surprising many, he returned to LA for his senior campaign, which he hopes will cement his legacy as the greatest college quarterback ever. The scary thought is that he might actually not be the best player on the Trojans, and lose out on a second Heisman to fellow teammate Reggie Bush. Leinart currently holds the Pac-10 record for career touchdown passes and is on pace to finish with over 100 on his career.

Reggie Bush, RB: Bush is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, anytime he touches the football. As a rusher, receiver, and kick returner, Bush is absolutely as explosive as they come. He averages over 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns per game.

LenDale White, RB: While Bush gets more highlights, White is just as big a part of USC's base offense. A power back that grinds out the tough yards, he averages 100 rushing yards per game and 6.5 per attempt.

WRs Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith: Lost in this obscenity of riches are a pair of top notch receivers. Both are on pace to surpass 1,200 receiving yards which would be a Pac-10 first.


USC's vaunted offensive line has dominated this season. Washington State will be hoping Southern Cal has their hands full with defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua and the Cougar d-line Saturday in Los Angeles.

Overview: Averaging 50 points per game, not only are the 2005 Trojans the No. 1 offense in the country, they are making a legitimate case for being the most dominating offense ever seen on a college football field. Leinart and Bush get the majority of the press clippings, but virtually every player excels at their position. The thunder and lightning combo of Bush and White is nearly unstoppable, while Smith and Jarrett dare anybody to single-cover them. Leinart is an experienced and accurate passer who rarely makes a mistake. The Trojans average over 250 rushing yards and 330 passing yards per game.

Strategy: This is a little like the condemned inmate selecting the means of execution, but if the Cougar defense is to get killed, better it be by Leinart through the air than by White and Bush on the ground. There is little the Cougar defense would appear able to do to slow this team down based on previous play, but keeping the Trojan defense on the field is vital in hopes of wearing them down. Washington State should stack the box, blitz, take chances, and hope that they can get a couple of lucky turnovers here and there. If Leinart has an off-day, the Cougs could force the issue in the second half.

THE TROJANS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Frostee Rucker, DE: SC's best pass rusher and most dominant overall lineman. Rucker leads the team with 5.5 sacks and is second in tackles with 41.

Darnell Bing, SS: Quick and instinctive, Bing has improved in coverage and also metes out punishment like a linebacker, delivering bone-crushing hits in run support.

Oscar Lua, LB: Handed the middle linebacker job after the early departure of Lofa Tatupu, Lua has done a fine job. He leads the team in tackles with 49.

Overview: While the offense is virtually unstoppable, the Trojan defense is at least mortal this season. Dominating players from '04, like Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody and Tatupu, have all graduated and the current crop of defenders is surprisingly short of star power. The linebackers have been thinned out by the loss of Dallas Sartz to injury and the whole group now only boasts three starters from last year's championship team. They are tough against the run but Notre Dame proved that they can be passed against if the QB is accurate.

Strategy: Run the ball as much as possible, then take your shots and hope for the best. True, the Trojans are very stringy against the run (2.7 yards per carry), but the Cougs must find a way to wear them down and hope the offense can make up a lot of ground in the second half. The Trojan's secondary isn't spectacular. Coach Bill Doba has said he might try to use more of the play clock. But more importantly, Brink has to hurt them enough to keep the running lanes open.

THE TROJANS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Malone vs Basler III would be more interesting if not for the fact that one punter would be foolish to test Reggie Bush, and the other has had an off year, perhaps in part due to injury. Add in the fact WSU returner Michael Bumpus will not play, and the Cougs might not be in the best position to take advantage of USC's kick coverage, one of the few areas of weakness on the team. Trojan kicker Mario Danelo, son of former Cougar kicker Joe Danelo, has gone virtually unused except for extra point duty.

INJURY REPORT
WSU:
LB Will Derting (knee), WR/PR Michael Bumpus (ankle). TE Jesse Taylor, (neck stinger) are out; CB Omowale Dada, KR/CB Lorenzo Bursey (shoulder), are game time decisions considered questionable, with Dada looking to have the better chance to play.
USC:
LB Dallas Sartz (out of the year, shoulder), KR/RB Desmond Reed (out for the year, ACL tear), LB Keith Rivers (probable, hamstring), LB Brian Cushing (probable, shoulder)

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Cougars needed to score 40 points in regulation to beat UCLA. They will need to score 50 to have a chance of beating USC. It is an unrealistic expectation as only Notre Dame is the only team to even score more than 30 against Southern Cal, but with a lot of luck, the Cougs could hang around in a track meet. The Trojans seem relieved after surviving a tough stretch of road games at Oregon, ASU, Notre Dame and UW; maybe the Trojans take a week off and show up flat for this one. Maybe some key players get dinged up and aren't their usual dominating selves the rest of the game. Maybe Hurricane Wilma makes a dramatic 3,000-mile westward shift. Maybe Leinart and Bush sign multi-million dollar deals with Nike before the game and are declared ineligible. These are but a few of the miraculous scenarios that could lead to a Cougar victory.

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