USC 101: A Herculean task awaits Cougs

RUNNING LOW ON players, Paul Wulff has a clear idea of what he wants to see on Saturday from Washington State, a monstrous 43-point underdog to USC. "I want to see them play hard," Wulff said. "We want to see them compete as hard as they can compete. And try to (do) everything in their power to execute the game plan."


Players to Know
Mark Sanchez, QB: Sanchez leads the Pac-10's top passing offense. Big and strong armed, his missteps this season have been few with an offensive line (and arguably a few Pac-10 refs) that except for one game, has given him enough time to call out for pizza and then go through his reads.

Joe McKnight, RB: He's averaging 7.7 yards per rush and 11.2 yards per catch this season. There has been some talk he won't make the trip with injuries, saying, "If we were playing somebody else I'd probably go."

Damian Williams and Patrick Turner, WRs: A dangerous pair of receivers. Sanchez likes to spread the ball around, but Turner and Williams account for half of Sanchez' passing yards and touchdowns.

Pick your poison. USC has come to redefine ‘pro-style offense' at the college level. They are averaging 165 rushing yards and 276 passing yards per game.

Voodoo. Otherwise, Oregon State was able to frustrate and confuse Sanchez and the USC offense by being more physical from the opening kickoff -- right on though the lines and across the board -- and in getting consistent pressure on the Trojan quarterback, some things Washington State has been unable to do so far this season. McKnight's comment should make for bulletin board material in the WSU locker room, the question will be what a beleaguered Cougar defense is able to do with it.

Cougars (1-6) vs Trojans (4-1)
12:30 pm Pacific Time

Martin Stadium (35,117)

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USC by 43

2007 in L.A., USC won 47-14.

USC leads the series 55-8-4

Recent ground-shaking upsets like Appalachian State's and Stanford's? Mere prelude. Cougars 57, Trojans 1


Players to Know
Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, LBs: Heavy hitters. Sideline-to-sideline coverage and a lot of speed. Teams have had problems running wide on USC and in keeping their linebackers from getting to the quarterback.

Taylor Mays, S: First team All-American last season and a Thorpe award candidate.

The Trojans lead the conference in virtually every defensive category and have surrendered the fewest points in NCAA football this season. Some media are saying the Cougars scoring streak of 278 consecutive games, the second longest in the nation, will be most in jeopardy this week than in any other game this season.

Kevin Lopina is likely to start but if he isn't ready to go, WSU will be on its fourth new starting quarterback in six games and fifth overall. For comparison purposes, Washington State has started four quarterbacks total in the previous eights seasons. WSU has allowed an NCAA worst 24 sacks this year and QB protection will be Job No. 1 this week. Critical to Washington State's success will be to establish a running game, something that looks to be severely hampered with the top two backs on the depth chart likely out and injuries up and down the offensive line. The one team that was able to run against USC did it by going right at them, straight up the gut, with a simple inside zone run.

Despite their depth and athleticism, USC is remarkably unremarkable in special teams. But WSU has not driven down Remarkable Street in Special Teams Town since the 2003 season either. A big return, a sure tackle and forced fumble, these are things that could go a long ways in helping build WSU's confidence on Saturday.

It would be prudent to try and win the time of possession battle but WSU on defense needs to do what they did in the second quarter against Oregon State. Or for the first three quarters in the season opener. Or at times against UCLA. When the Cougar defense begins to believe in themselves, they play some decent football. A little confidence goes a long ways. The problem is that when adversity shows up, the Cougs are more often than not unable to fight through it. The remedy is not a mysterious one -- Washington State needs to play every down with focus and conviction, and cannot drop their heads if they give up a big play or get a bad call or are down by a large number. The last defensive play in the fourth quarter needs to display the same intensity as the opening snap.

A good start is always important but given how the season has gone, it's more critical than ever before. In looking at the one Trojans' loss on the season, Washington State needs to pound, pound, pound the ball at the Trojans on the ground and try to use their straight-ahead speed against them. Running sweeps with and off tackle plays with the Cougs' Nos. 1 and 2 running backs likely out, with a banged up offensive line against a fast flowing defense, would seemingly be a tough way to move the chains on Saturday.

There is no way to sugarcoat the statistics. The Cougs currently rank towards the bottom of most statistical categories and in the stat that counts most, the scoreboard, they have surrendered a painful 56 points per game. Factor in that the Cougs have a 13 game schedule and only one bye, WSU needs guys to stay healthy and for some things to go right. Facing USC, who looks to have a real shot to win out and play in the national title game, probably isn't the first team you would select for such a task .

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