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Trojans Expecting WSU's 'Best Shot'

USC coach provides Cougars with some bulletin-board material.

One of the rites of autumn is the annual tale of woe expressed by the USC or UCLA football teams when they are forced — and “forced” is the only way to describe it — to make their way to tiny, isolated Pullman.

This year’s “victims” are the 20th-ranked USC Trojans, who take on Washington State today at Martin Stadium. It’s the Pacific-10 Conference opener for both teams.

USC coach Lane Kiffin, a brazen sort who rubs many the wrong way, won’t make too many friends in Pullman with his remarks about the nondescript visitor’s locker room and the “long” (maybe two minutes) walk from the locker room to the playing field at WSU.

“You feel like you’re in high school,” Kiffin told the Los Angeles Times this week. “It’s good for our guys — it keeps them grounded.

“A lot of these kids come here spoiled; they don’t appreciate how good they have it here.”

USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a sophomore who is making his first trip to Washington State, told the Times he’s been told Pullman is “in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing but a football stadium.”

Well, that and a Cougars team that seems surprisingly confident for a young squad coming off an 0-9 Pac-10 season. WSU has lost seven straight to the Trojans, but the Cougars were only outscored 7-6 by USC last year after falling behind 20-0 in the first 12 minutes.

“We know we’re a much better football team (than last year) we know we can match up with these guys,” WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel said.

“I grew up hating USC all my life, so that definitely adds some fun,” said WSU linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, a Los Angeles native.

“The crowd should be loud and rowdy like always,” Tuel added, “so I think it’ll cause some problems for SC.”

The Trojans are 3-0, but they’ve been inconsistent. Their pass defense ranks 110th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (WSU is 104th), and Kiffin said Tuel has played “extremely well.”

“I expect what usually happens every time USC comes to play; we get everybody’s best shot,” Kiffin said. “Usually, when a team’s ‘down,’ it’s kind of their rallying cry, their Super Bowl of the season, so I expect nothing less from Washington State.

“The game last year down here was somewhat competitive and was not a blowout like it had been the year before (69-0 in Pullman). We can’t overlook a game. We’re not very good right now. We’ve got a lot of things to work on.”

EXTRA POINTS

WSU seniors Chima Nwachukwu, Bernard Wolfgramm and Chantz Staden appear ready to go after sitting out last week with injuries. Nwachukwu had a concussion as well as the neck injury originally disclosed. ... True freshman Bennett Bontemps, a walk-on wide receiver out of Rogers High School in Puyallup, is expected to see his first college action today. He may be limited to special teams. ... USC is one of the most penalized teams in the country (31 flags for 321 yards). WSU ranks in the middle (18-171). ... The Trojans are 7-for-7 on extra points and 2-for-7 on two-point conversions. Joe Houston is 1-for-3 on field goals, including 0-for-2 from beyond 34 yards. .. The Cougars have lost three straight conference openers. USC has lost two straight. ... WSU added a second Seattle station (KIXI 880) to its radio network. Interestingly, the Cougars have 22 radio outlets and perennial national powerhouse USC has only seven. ... The Cougars have 42 players from California and 53 from Washington. USC has 76 players from California and none from Washington.

Cougars AT A GLANCE

Today

Southern Cal (3-0) at WSU (0-3)

Time: Noon

TV: FSN

Radio: 850/1050 AM

USC (3-0) at Washington State (1-2)

When: Today, noon

Where: Martin Stadium, Pullman.

TV: FSN

Radio: 850/1050 AM.

Three keys to the game

1. Protect the quarterback: The Cougars average a league-low 96.7 rushing yards per game and have given up a league-high 10 quarterback sacks. Three junior college transfers (two in their first season at WSU and one playing a new position in his second season at WSU) start on the shaky offensive line. The sacks total would be much higher if not for the nimble footwork of quarterback Jeff Tuel.

2. Stop the run: USC quarterback Matt Barkley has already thrown nine touchdown passes (with just two interceptions), and the Washington State secondary is young and vulnerable. However, the game may be determined by WSU’s ability to stop the run. The Trojans’ offensive line has been underwhelming, but USC averages 5.6 yards per carry, and WSU gives up 5.4 per carry.

3. Be special on special teams: The Cougars have generally been quite solid on special teams this year. USC traditionally pays lip service to special teams, but the Trojans might need all the help they can get this year, since they don’t seem quite as dominant as in recent years. USC’s Ronald Johnson came into the week ranked seventh in the nation with 19.2 yards per punt return; WSU is yielding just 4.4 yards per punt return.

 

Read more at kitsapsun.com

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