Number-one comes calling

Hollywood is starting to rub off on USC. Not even Oliver Stone could have developed a screenplay the way Matt Leinart and the Trojan offense did Saturday in a 34-31 win at Notre Dame, a game many are saying might be the greatest college football game ever played. Now the Washington Huskies get to see what USC Head Coach Pete Carroll has up his sleeve. Husky Stadium has not hosted a number-one team since 1969 - will the 31-point under-dawgs pull off an upset worthy of USC-ND, Part Two?

"We talked about making it a great DVD and we accomplished that," said Carroll of his team's late-minute heroics in South Bend. "We're thankful we got out of there, but we need to play better, to tell you the truth."

Carroll certainly played the part of a worried head coach to Holtz-ian perfection Monday, talking about inconsistency in his offense and a lack of a return game in the area of special teams. Inconsistency in his offense? No offense Pete, but that's like Pam Anderson fretting over a 3 mm freckle on one of her breasts. "We have a lot of areas we have to work at," said Carroll. "We're not functioning the way we like to. It's causing some problems for ourselves. We've got to work hard to clean up our act."

Wow.

UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham brought a fact to the table that exposed Carroll's coachspeak. "Every coach is looking to have their team be more consistent, but for much of the year they've been averaging nearly a point a minute, so it's hard to be much better than that," he said.

Indeed, the Trojans have out-rushed their opponents 1631 yards to 607, have out-passed their opponents 2047 yards to 1495 and are averaging a whopping 613 yards of offense per game. Just to put that in perspective, Oregon was able to move the football at will against UW last weekend and they still were almost 50 yards short of the Trojans' average. Notre Dame was able to hold USC to only 476 yards of total offense, but still lost.

Willingham snaps back into Coachspeak Land. "You recognize that they are a very balanced football team," he said. The new UW head coach knows all about USC, having played them last year when he was coaching the Fighting Irish. The game was played in Los Angeles, and while ND was able to contain the lethal 'Thunder and Lightning' combination of Reggie Bush and LenDale White to 76 total yards on 22 carries, but Matt Leinart ripped the Irish secondary to shreds. Considering what Kellen Clemens did to UW this past weekend, it would certainly make a lot of sense.

"You have a lot of confidence when you are doing things you know how to do and you've been prepared to do them," Carroll said of Leinart's play of late, particularly the ballsy move to audible to Dwayne Jarrett one-on-one on a potential game-ending 4th-down play against ND. "Maybe it makes you appear more bold than you really are."

Just because ND was able to contain Bush running the ball out of the backfield last year does not mean Willingham and UW Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer have the formula down for taking the juice out of arguably the most electrifying running back to ever play college football. And they won't necessarily look to the way they handled Maurice Drew and UCLA's running attack earlier this year either, even though they would love to see that kind of a result. The productive and evasive Bruin back - who ran for a school record 322 yards against the Huskies in 2004 - looked way too human against UW this season, running for only 33 yards.

"There is a difference between Drew and Bush," said Willingham. "Drew is elusive, but he's more of a slasher, in a sense. You have to defend the whole field with Bush. The first touchdown (against ND) was spectacular. It was designed to hit frontside, but he takes it backside then uses his receivers amazingly well and then hurdles the next tackler."

You could look to every position on the field, and a player-by-player analysis would lead you to this conclusion - this game is the classic matchup of haves versus have-nots; a setup that could only result in a victory by the little guy if it was done in a parking lot studio in Burbank.

It couldn't happen in Husky Stadium, right? The Huskies as four-score under-dawgs? A team that hasn't won a league game in 693 days and counting?

"It has to be one of those games where we play mistake-free," said Willingham. "And we've got to get some help from them, they've got to do some things that are uncharacteristic of them. But we need to execute at our best. If we do that, the game usually takes care of itself. So we need to execute and have fun."

And the Trojans, fresh from laying all their wares out on the field of play this past Saturday for DVD posterity, certainly have enough in the tank to blank the Dawgs just like they did last year in their house. Right? Carroll is taking nothing to chance.

"It's always difficult with Pac-10 games and we've had struggles with Pac-10 games already, and we anticipate more of the same," he said. "If we get in any other kind of mindset, we're going to miss the boat. It's about performing. We have to go into every game like it's the most important game in the world."

Carroll can certainly look at Willingham and the situation he's found himself in and empathize. He's been there. When he took over the USC program back in 2001, he was 2-and-5 after having lost to those pesky Golden Domers. In that span the Trojans lost last-second games on the road to both Oregon and Washington. His team was working hard and playing hard, but they weren't getting the payoff for their efforts.

"At the time we were playing lousy, but we were nose-to-nose with two highly regarded schools in the conference," said Carroll about that first year. "I was mad that we were that close and lost. The week after that, when we played Arizona, we won that game and felt that we had made a turn. I talked about it in the locker room that we didn't have to lose anymore. We may get beat, but we didn't have to lose anymore because we didn't know how to finish. And we've been on a pretty good track since then."

Sound familiar? It does to Willingham, who went through the same growing pains at Stanford. "You have to play the game like you love it, like you enjoy it," he said. "And what I tell our team is usually the guys that love playing the game, the game is usually good to you. It kind of rewards you for that attitude, that approach and how you go about playing and working at it. And it's much easier to say it and do that when you are having success. It's hard when the game is beating you against the head, to feel real good about what you're doing."

Which just adds to the miraculous connotation a win over USC would provide those in Hollywood already clammoring for 'USC-ND, Part Two'.

The only question that remains is not which USC team shows up, but which Washington team - the team that played their guts out against UCLA or the one that spilled their guts out against Oregon.

Notes:
Injury Update: Nothing definitive on the injuries sustained against the Ducks, other than CB Josh Okoebor, who was taken off the official two-deeps for a hamstring injury sustained in Eugene. Tackle Joe Toledo is closer to playing, according to Willingham. "I think he (Toledo) is getting a lot closer, and should be in a little better position to play this week." He also said that recently-moved OL Jordan White-Frisbee had a 'setback' in regards to the foot injury that is currently causing him to sit out a redshirt year, but added that it won't keep him from doing the things he has already been doing to get himself ready for next spring. "Hopefully this will be a good thing because now he's gotten all of this out of the way," said Willingham.

Anger versus disappointment: Willingham said he sensed 'disappointment' in his team after the loss to the Ducks, and not anger. Does he have an opinion as to the mood he'd like his team to be in come game-time against the Trojans? "I'd prefer whatever gets us to where Coach Carroll is," he quipped.

Baby steps: Willingham searched for positives in regards to his team's play this past weekend. "One thing that we have been working on is trying to find a way to score points in the 4th quarter," he said. "That's something we haven't been able to do all year. So against this football team, to be able to do that - it's another one of those positive steps."

Two-pointer?: When UW scored their last touchdown against the Ducks, a two-point conversion would have cut the Dawgs' deficit to two scores (16 points). Did Willingham give it some thought? "I did, but I didn't think it there was an advantage to do it at that point. There are different ways to look at it."

No time change for ASU: The Arizona State game will stay at 3:30 and will not be picked up by television.


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