Game Preview: Washington State Cougars

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No. 20 USC Trojans (3-0) at Washington State Cougars (1-2)

Head Coach: Paul Wulff (3 years: 4-24)

Conference:

Stars: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson

Location: Martin Stadium (Pullman, Washington)

Time: 12:00 PM PDT

Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM

Spread: Washington State (+22)

Matchup: No. 20 USC rolls into Pullman, Washington, with a pristine 3-0 record to open up Pac-10 play. The Trojans aren’t bowl eligible, but they can play spoiler and win the Pac-10 conference. Despite starting 3-0 for the first time since 2007, the Trojans have fallen steadily in the rankings. In the eyes of the pollsters, the 32-21 win at Minnesota was not impressive enough to warrant remaining at number 18.

Washington State returns home after falling to SMU by the count of 35-21. The week before that, the Cougars rallied with 16 in the fourth quarter to beat FCS Montana State 23-22. Paul Wulff’s squad seems slightly better than they were in 2009, but they are still awful.

Heading into Saturday, Lane Kiffin has yet to announce who will start at tailback. Marc Tyler has been banged up throughout the week, but Kiffin expects to play him as well as Bradford if Tyler is healthy. Matt Barkley is looking to rebound after throwing two interceptions in what amounted to his worst game in Minnesota. The offensive line opened up large holes last week, and should continue to do the same. On the receiving end, primary receiver Ronald Johnson is expected to be healthy after missing some time against the Golden Gophers with flu-like symptons. After a breakout performance at Hawaii, the USC offense hasn’t been impressive in weeks 2 and 3. For a struggling offense, the cure comes in the form of the Washington State defense. The Cougars are allowing 40.7 points per game. Putting up big numbers isn’t any indication that USC will be able to do so in the marquee games, but it will serve as a confidence boost to a unit that is still searching for its identity.

Defensively, USC and Monte Kiffin have to be salivating. After allowing just 81 rush yards last week, USC faces an inept offensive line that has allowed 10 sacks in three games. Jeff Tuel has been able to mount a decent passing attack, and Marquess Wilson has good stats, but the Cougars are overmatched. The Trojans emphasized the pass rush this week in practice, and Tuel figures to be on his back early and often in this contest. The running game is even more ineffective than the passing attack. Washington State ranks 105 out of 120 teams with 96.7 yards per game on the ground.

On paper, this doesn’t appear to be much of a contest. For USC, this will be their fourth tune-up game before the meat of their schedule arrives. In all honesty, USC has yet  to face a worthy adversary and needs to use this game as an opportunity to nail down the questions that have plagued them so far. Realistically, USC won’t have to play its best football to pull off a win against the lowly Cougars. However, it would be a welcome sight to fans if the Men of Troy dominate in all phases of the game this weekend. Lurking next week is Washington, who derailed USC’s national title hopes early on in 2009. If USC takes care of business, it will be a subtle statement that they are improving and ready for the daunting task ahead.

Stat of the week: USC is 4-5 in its last nine Pac-10 road openers, including dropping their last two.

Final Score Prediction: USC 49 – Washington State 6