October 2, 2008

Pac-10: USC defense has something to prove

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Free safety Taylor Mays has a bruised chest, linebacker Rey Maualuga has a bad knee and USC's run defense has a wounded reputation.

The Trojans now seem abnormally vulnerable after Oregon State freshman Jacquizz Rodgers all 5 feet 7 and 193 pounds of him dodged and dashed for 186 yards in the Beavers' 27-21 upset a week ago.

"We didn't play very well at the line of scrimmage, and they blocked us," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "That, coupled with sloppy tackling, got them enough consistency that they could control the ball."

The response has been quick and severe. USC dropped from No. 1 to No. 9 in the national rankings, and end Everson Griffen and tackle Averell Spicer may have dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 on the depth chart.

To make matters worse, the Trojans who on Saturday will have Mays but may not have Maualuga next face Oregon, which leads the Pac-10 in rushing. The Ducks, who average 308.6 yards per game to rank fourth in the nation in rushing offense, have exceeded 200 rushing yards in every game this year. Running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson each have rushed for more than 400 yards this season.

But before counting on huge outbursts from Blount and Johnson, here's a history lesson: Since the start of the 2002 season, USC has lost eight times in the regular season but never back-to-back.

"We're bouncing back," Carroll said. "We had to come back from last week. All of our focus is heading toward Oregon. We're setting our sights on them."

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti expects to see a more intense USC than Oregon State did. "The Oregon State game proved that they're vulnerable," he said. "But at the same time, it's probably got them madder than a hornet's nest."

Are the Trojans angry? Carroll isn't sure.

"I don't know if it's angry, but they're going to be ready," he said.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Oregon run offense vs. USC run defense. Even after getting sliced up last week, USC still is 19th in the nation in run defense. The Trojans will have two new starters in the line Clay Matthews at end and either Christian Tupou or Jurrell Casey at tackle and a nasty attitude when they face Oregon. Will that be enough? The Ducks boast one of the most productive running games in America. A proven offensive line leads the way for running backs LeGarrette Blount, who has rushed for 481 yards, and Jeremiah Johnson, who has run for 440.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Thursday
    Oregon State at Utah, 9:00 p.m.
    Saturday
    Stanford at Notre Dame. 2:30 p.m.
    Arizona State at California, 3:30 p.m.
    Washington at Arizona, 7:30 p.m.
    Oregon at USC, 8:00 p.m.
    Washington State at UCLA, 10:15 p.m.

    USC QB Mark Sanchez. He passed for 227 yards and three touchdowns last week, but also threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter. So, whether he needs redemption or not, he surely is seeking some. Oregon's pass defense surprisingly has had some issues, with Boise State throwing for 386 yards against the Ducks. Sanchez was intercepted twice in a loss to Oregon last season.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Cal's special teams have produced a touchdown in three of the Bears' four games. In last week's 42-7 victory over Colorado State, the Bears scored two as Syd'Quan Thompson returned a punt 73 yards and Bryant Nnabuife returned a blocked punt 30 yards. That was Nnabuife's second touchdown off a blocked punt this season. The Bears set a school record against Colorado State with 187 punt-return yards. Stanford senior RB Anthony Kimble came on in place of injured starter Toby Gerhart and rushed for a career-high 157 yards - including an 83-yard touchdown run - in a victory at Washington. Oregon State's Rodgers has rushed for at least 99 yards and scored two touchdowns in each of the past three games. Oregon State has allowed just 143 rushing yards in the past two games.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • USC RB Joe McKnight gained just 10 yards on seven carries and lost a fumble in last week's 27-21 loss to Oregon State. He also fumbled a punt, but was able to recover. UCLA's pass defense has plunged to 98th in the country after allowing 795 yards and 12 touchdowns in the past three games. Washington's offensive line has allowed 13 sacks in four games, and that's with mobile QB Jake Locker, who is expected to be out at least four weeks after breaking a thumb against Stanford last week.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "Have we turned the corner? I don't know. We have eight games to figure that out."
    Arizona coach Mike Stoops, whose team is 3-1.

    "That was a great win, to beat USC, but it really means nothing if we don't win the game against Utah. We need to come out and just show the nation that it wasn't a fluke."
    Oregon State DE Slade Norris, whose team is at Utah on Thursday night.

    "If I'm not living up to the tenets that I've set for myself and our young men in our program, then I'll make the right decisions that reflect the right things to do for our young men and our university."
    Washington coach Tyrone Willingham on the uncertainty of his job to the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune.

  • ETC.
  • Arizona State has played all four of its games at home and now plays four of its next five games on the road. How's this for offensive balance? California is averaging 32 rushes for 205.2 yards per game and 35 passes for 240 yards. Oregon CB Walter Thurmond III, who missed the loss to Boise State, returned to the lineup last week and grabbed two interceptions against Washington State. The 186-yard effort by Oregon State's Rodgers was the most rushing yards by a USC opponent since Texas' Vince Young gained 200 in the 2005 national championship game. UCLA's Terrence Austin set a school record with 206 yards on six kickoff returns in last week's loss to Fresno State. He also had 44 yards on three punt returns. USC has allowed just one second-half score this season and has outscored opponents 63-6 in the second half. Washington State senior wide receiver Brandon Gibson notched the 11th 100-yard receiving game of his career last week with 10 catches for 103 yards against Oregon. Gibson now shares the school record for 100-yard games with current Washington State receivers coach Mike Levenseller. Arizona State tailback Keegan Herring is expected to be back in action after missing three of the first four games with injury. But California will be without tailback Jahvid Best, who has a dislocated elbow.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




     

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