Monday, September 22, 2008

Preview: (1) USC at Oregon State

(1) USC at Oregon State

Quickie: In 2006, the top ranked Trojans traveled to Reser Stadium to take on the unranked Beavers of Oregon State. As history had it, The Trojans just needed to score to win the game, since Oregon State had never beaten a USC team that they didn’t shutout. Well, the Trojans scored, and No. 1 still fell like the John David Booty pass on a tying two point conversion attempt that was batted to seal their fate. Last year, USC got their revenge, overpowering the Beavers, with Mark Sanchez making only his second collegiate start. Now it’s a flip of venues, and the top ranked Trojans head back to Corvallis and the scene of the crime.

Last week: BYE

Last year, OSU featured one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, ranking 8th in the nation overall. Now we have a complete reversal, with Oregon State only able to contain one of their first three opponents, and that was a miserable Hawaii team. The Beavers surrender 36 points in their opening loss to Stanford, which was followed up by Penn State hanging 45 on the scoreboard and wracking up 454 yards of offense.

The Beavers didn’t suddenly forget how to play on the defensive side of the ball. The 2007 season ended with the loss of their entire defensive front seven, quickly casting the program into a defensive rebuilding mode. But even with a nationally ranked defense last year, a downscaled Trojan offense managed to score, with Sanchez picking up a 24-7 victory after being thrust into the starting role.

The offense of Oregon State has been equally woeful. Rumor has it that quarterback Sean Canfield will return to the Beavers line up for Thursday night’s game. Canfield had missed the first 3 games recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Lyle Moevao opened the season as the signal caller, and in the case of OSU QBs, it’s a question of which is the lesser of two evils. Moevao and Canfield combined for 11 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions in 2007, and are hardly the strength of the Beavers offense. This program is typically powered by a running game, and they also lost leading rusher Yverson Bernard to graduation. Freshman Ryan McCants will look to be Mike Riley’s 3rd freshman to rush for 1000 yards in a season. By far, the biggest offensive weapon they possess is WR Sammie Stroughter, but it becomes an issue of getting him into space, which they haven’t found to be easy. Stroughter missed the majority of the 2007 season, while suffering with depression.

Last week: BYE

If there’s one thing certain, the Trojans love the national spotlight. Not only have they managed to dismantle their first two opponents (Virginia, Ohio State) in nationally televised games this season, it continues a trend of dominance, with the exception being the nail biting loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS Championship game. Now here they come again on Thursday night, televised before a national television audience, and looking to use the Oregon State Beavers as another statement game.

With Oregon State not presenting much of a pass rush, chances are Joe McKnight (9.2 per rush) will get the starting nod at tailback. He’s surrounded by the usual suspects, including QB Mark Sanchez who has quickly emerged as a solid Heisman candidate. One of the unsung heroes of the first two games has been offensive lineman Jeff Byers, who created his own personal highlight film by pancaking two Ohio State Buckeyes on a single play. This line that was supposed to be the Achilles heel has proven otherwise, and if anything, represents a strength. 11 different Trojans have scored in the two games this season, with only WR Damian Williams scoring twice. The spreading of the wealth should continue, with USC easily possessing more talent than their opponent.

The Trojans defense has been phenomenal. In the two games against BCS opponents, they’ve only surrendered one touchdown, which was aided by penalties that drove Virginia down the field, and held the defending Big 10 champions and national championship runner up Buckeyes to just a field goal. Now in game three, the unit may be looking for a shutout. Another body returns for the defensive squad, as LB Chris Gallipo will rejoin the team after missing the opening games recovering from back surgery. One player to watch is rising star Clay Matthews. The seldom noticed member of the linebacking group made it a habit of calling opposing backfields home in the first two games.

Xtra Points: After suffering the shocking loss to Oregon State in 2006, it was the first time since 2003 that I’ve seen a Trojan team without swagger, even if short-lived. It was a reality check in the worse way, ending a streak of domination over not only the Pac 10, but also against regular season opponents. Historically, USC has had their struggles early, and usually against their first Pac 10 opponents on the road. If you recall, they again struggled with Washington in Seattle last year, before being upset by Stanford at home. But this time there is no looking past Oregon State. There are still players on the roster with that bitter 2006 taste in their mouths. And just like all road revenge games in the past, they usually end with the embarrassment of the home team.

All Time Series: USC leads 58-9-4
Streak: USC won 1

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