USC 101: Trojan Force

WHETHER THE REST of the world is willing to admit it or not, the road to the Pac-10 title goes through Pullman. The Cougs host all four teams with 1-0 conference records and the gauntlet begins with the cream of the crop, USC. Despite hemorrhaging massive talent to the NFL, the Trojans still look as dominant as ever, shredding Arkansas, Nebraska, and Arizona in the opening quarter of the season.

Worse, they did it while looking like they still had plenty of room to improve.

The Trojans enter this game banged up, but haven't missed a beat thanks to their depth. All the tangible evidence suggests that USC should win the game handily, but the steadily improving Cougs and a raucous Martin Stadium crowd have no intention of going out quietly.

Cougars (3-1) vs Trojans (3-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (37,600)

TELEVISION:
TBS (National)

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

THE LINE:
USC by 18.5

LAST MEETING:
2005, USC won 55-13.

THE SERIES:
USC leads the series 53-8-4

CF.C PREDICTION:
USC 38, Cougars 21

THE TROJANS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
John David Booty, QB: Like Matt Leinart before him, Booty is doing a solid job early in filling the shoes of a legend. As a passer, he tends to rely heavily on three step drops and intermediate range throws, but also hasn't been forced to throw the ball deep very much. In three games he's completed 66 percent of his throws for 697 yards and seven scores. Fans complain he stares down his receivers too much and overthrows too many long balls, but he has had just one pass intercepted this year.

Steve Smith and Fred Davis, WRs: Fortunately for the Cougs, USC appears this week to be without their best receiver, Dwayne Jarrett, who has a shoulder sprain. There is no real drop-off to Smith and Davis, but there will be less of a height mismatch to overcome.

Emmanuel Moody, RB: Moody looks to have seized the starting job away from Chauncy Washington and brings more big play ability to the table. In sporadic playing time the freshman has averaged over seven yards per carry. While certainly premature, some Trojan partisans are already comparing his game to Reggie Bush's. Fumble issues and indecisiveness have been his only early shortcomings.

Overview
USC's pro-style offense hasn't been lighting up the scoreboards and stat ledgers to the degree the '05 squad did, but they're pretty much without real weaknesses. Focusing on ball control more than in years past, they've tended to dominate in time of possession. Athleticism abounds, particularly at the skill positions. If there is a criticism it's that the offensive line hasn't exactly been blowing holes open. This has been compounded by a plague of injuries to the lead blockers --all three fullbacks are already out with season ending injuries and they've basically been holding tryouts. They've found a couple of options but they don't appear confident in any of them, and may use more twin tight end sets at WSU. So far, there appears a lack of egos among the group with last season's disappointing finish seemingly putting them all on the same page: win by any means necessary.

Strategy
USC surrenders just nine points per game, so if the Cougs want to pull off an upset, their defense has to sustain a colossal effort. Booty has made a killing in the controlled passing game. The Cougs need to get him out of his comfort zone and force him to beat them deep. True, WSU could get burned with a move like this, but the point is to take away the easy stuff and force SC to open up the play book.

THE TROJANS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Rey Maulaluga, Dallas Sartz, Oscar Lua, Brian Cushing, Keith Rivers, LBs: USC might have the finest corps of linebackers in the country. This group is wreaking havoc on offenses and improving every week. Even by top tier linebacker standards, they are big, fast, and ruthless hitters.

Laurence Jackson, DE: "LoJack" isn't putting up gaudy numbers but is also facing a lot of double teams. A solid defensive end with great speed. He's USC's best pure pass rusher.

Overview
USC employs a base 4-3 but will sometimes use four linebackers with one (Brian Cushing) usually lined up in a defensive end or "elephant," slot for blitzing the QB. The Trojans have been devastatingly strong in the first three games, surrendering just nine points and 217 yards per game; and those numbers have been declining each week. They've been particularly stingy against the run, where opponents average just 2.2 yards per attempt and 60 yards per game. The teams speed is outstanding and they didn't sacrifice size to obtain achieve it either.

Strategy
Attack the cornerbacks. USC's linebackers are good enough, WSU may need to outright avoid them to move the ball consistently. The temptation may be to just keep things close and avoid giving the game away with turnovers, but passive offense looks the surest way to get smothered by a defense this good. Giving the Trojans a healthy dosage of their best weaponry at every opportunity may be the Cougs' best chance. That may mean going deep, and that may mean seeing more of Gary Rogers than just one series to spell Alex Brink. Rogers' arm strength is custom made to split the seams in this lightning quick defense. Misdirection and even a few gimmick plays could also be well advised, as the Cougs need to find ways to use the Trojan's speed against them. Signs point to WSU being unlikely to score more than 21 points, so the offense needs to help the defense out and use enough clock that the stop corps can remain fresh.

THE TROJANS ON SPECIAL TEAM
Cougar legacy Mario Danelo has been money on five of his six field goal attempts. Punter Greg Woidneck is averaging 40.3 yards per boot. The loss of Reggie Bush is noticeable in the kick return game, but overall special teams are solid.

INJURY REPORT
WASHINGTON STATE
Out - Chris Baltzer (9/20 knee ACL), Bobby Byrd (9/16 knee MCL sprain), Chris Jordan (left knee surgery), Matt Mullennix (left ACL surgery), Jason Stripling (shoulder surgery recovery)
Doubtful– Josh Duin (9/23 knee MCL), Scott Friberg (8/22 hip/knee sprain)
Questionable – Markus Dawes (9/2 high ankle sprain), Ansley Jean-Jacques (9/9 thumb surgery)

USC
Out – Brandon Hancock (FB), Stanley Havili (FB), Ryan Powdrell (FB)
Doubtful – Dwayne Jarrett (WR, shoulder sprain), Jeff Byers (OG), Josh Pinkard (CB/S), Sedrick Ellis (DT), Kevin Thomas (CB)
Probable –Chauncy Washington (RB)

FINAL THOUGHTS
The WSU players and staff will approach this game with great enthusiasm. They have virtually nothing to lose and everything to gain. In a way, it's almost like having the slate wiped clean and getting another crack at Auburn. If they lose, it's no big deal to the pundits, most of the world has already written it off as a loss anyway. But if they were to win, WSU overnight becomes the default favorites to win the conference title. An unlikely scenario to be sure, but a very worthwhile motivation.

USC, particularly on defense, is every bit as tough as hyped to be but they are beatable if they aren't on their game. It's WSU's job to make them prove that they are. Force the Trojans to win on big plays and take away the easy stuff.


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