USC 101: Ball control critical for Coug hopes

ABOUT THE ONLY THING going against USC is the fact 1968 Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson is stealing ... all the headlines. Otherwise, life in Troy, to borrow an old phrase from Jim Walden, is nothing but chicken and grapes. USC put an exclamation point on its No. 1 ranking by thumping a top 20 Nebraska team in Lincoln last week. They sport a 34-game home field win streak.

And while the Trojans' opponent this week nearly upset them a year ago in Pullman, facts are facts: The Cougs don't play very well at the Coliseum. The last two trips there, in 2005 and 2003, produced losses of 55-13 and 43-16.

Former WSU defensive coordinator Robb Akey, who inaugurated his tenure at Idaho with a loss at USC three weeks ago, said this year's Trojans are bigger, better and faster than last year's edition. That thought, combined with a Cougar defense that's woeful against the pass, is most sobering.

Given WSU's offensive attack, an upset win by the Cougars isn't beyond the imagination. Still, it would be the most head-turning development on the college football landscape this side of Appalachian State.

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

WHERE:
LA Coliseum (92,000)

TELEVISION:
ABC

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

THE LINE:
USC by 25

LAST YEAR:
USC 28 WSU 22

THE SERIES:
USC leads 54-8-4

CF.C PREDICTION:
USC 42, WSU 30

THE TROJANS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
John David Booty, QB: USC's senior signal caller and Heisman candidate. Really made believers in the Rose Bowl last season. Has completed 64 percent of his passes for 5 touchdowns and only 1 interception in the first two games this season.

Sam Baker, LT: Two-time All-American and Outland Trophy frontrunner. Leads a crew of physical beasts up front that play with a mean streak.

Overview
As much notoriety as USC gets for its skill position players, it's the offensive line that dominates. They manhandled the Cornhuskers last week, averaging nearly 8 yards per rush attempt. The starting center is injured but true freshman Kris O'Dowd filled in well enough to assure it won't be a problem area. USC's receivers are young and have dropped some balls this year, but Booty has been on target. The Trojans' embarrassment of wealth at running back allows them to rush by committee in almost taunting fashion.

Strategy
It is well documented how porous WSU's secondary has been this season. Booty will want to show off his arm against them, but after the level of dominance USC displayed running the ball last week, WSU cannot afford to overextend themselves supporting their defensive backs. Stopping the run is the top priority. The Cougars will have to hope that Booty has an off day, or the secondary steps up at least a couple notches. At the very least, the corners have got to keep the receivers in front of them and avoid big plays.

THE TROJANS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Brian Cushing, Rey Malaluga, and Keith Rivers, LBs: The best collection of linebackers in the conference and perhaps the nation. All are salty veterans and big hitters. Cushing is probably the best of the group but he is questionable for Saturday with an injured ankle.

Laurence Jackson DE, and Sedrick Ellis DT: The left side of USC's line is NFL quality. All-Americans' Jackson and Ellis are solid pass rushers and dominant run stoppers.

Overview
USC runs a 4-3. They don't take many gambles and allow their superior athleticism and depth wear you down. The front seven might be the best in college football. The defensive line has a surprising amount of speed for as big as they are. The linebackers are experienced and very physical. If the Trojans have a 'weakness' it is in the secondary. The depth here is still a little undeveloped and gave up a lot of passing yards last week.

Strategy
It goes without saying that Alex Brink will have to have a monster day against the USC secondary to keep this game close. But if the Cougs actually want to win, they will need the offensive balance and clock control provided only by a consistent running game. If the Trojans respect Brink enough to allow the Cougs to run the ball early in drives, so be it. Just keep the USC offense on the sidelines any way possible.

THE TROJANS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
First-year kicker David Beuhler handles the exclamation point duties for the Trojans. He converted his only field goal attempt this year from 36 yards. Punter Greg Woineck has upped his average to 41.7 yard per punt in his second campaign. Trojan kick coverage and return units once again look to be another strength.

FINAL THOUGHTS
USC has won an unprecedented 34 straight home games, including 23 straight in Pac-10 play. Teams this talented and experienced don't usually fall at home, but there is hope that a little overconfidence could be in play after such an easy win at Nebraska. WSU has a slight edge in the passing department, but that's all. The Cougs need to leverage that strength to try and create some running lanes for Dwight Tardy and give the Cougar defense a chance to rest. The Trojans have only allowed 2.2 yards per rush attempt this year while racking up 6.5 yards per carry themselves. WSU's linemen are no slouches, but the Cougars would be foolish to try and win this game in the trenches.


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