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No. 1 USC (2-0) VS. OREGON STATE (1-2)

A key return

The No. 1-ranked Trojans, with a goal of an undefeated season, are back for the first time at the scene of a 2006 defeat to face the Beavers in Pac-10 opener.

September 25, 2008

With its sights set on an unbeaten season, top-ranked USC returns to a stadium that erupted into a victorious Oregon State celebration the last time the Trojans visited in 2006. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key issues and matchups when USC plays the Beavers in the Trojans' Pacific 10 Conference opener:

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It only took USC's Mark Sanchez two games to put himself in the Heisman Trophy discussion.

Leading men

The junior has passed for 510 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions, showing resourcefulness and moxie while leading the Trojans to routs of Virginia and Ohio State.

USC coaches this week elevated Garrett Green to the backup role, displacing redshirt freshman Aaron Corp and leaving sophomore Mitch Mustain fourth on the depth chart.

Oregon State's Lyle Moevao is second in the Pac-10 in passing yards per game (307.3). He has thrown six touchdown passes with four interceptions.

Sammie factor

USC's secondary and kick coverage units could have their hands full with Sammie Stroughter.

The senior, who was granted an extra season of eligibility after missing 2007 because of depression, appears to have picked up where he left off in 2006, when he torched the Trojans in Oregon State's 33-31 victory.

Stroughter caught eight passes for 127 yards and also scored on a 70-yard punt return in that game.

"We watched the tape of that return four times," USC safety Taylor Mays.

"We know what we have to do to keep that from happening again."

Stroughter will work against a secondary that is without cornerback Shareece Wright (fractured vertebra), who is also the Trojans' best player on kick coverage. Senior Josh Pinkard starts in place of Wright, and receiver Ronald Johnson will take his spot on the special teams.

Front end

Tough and aggressive linemen and linebackers characterized Oregon State defenses the last several seasons, but the Beavers lost all seven starters from 2007.

"Everyone is still finding their niche," Beavers Coach Mike Riley said. "We had some rough spells in the first couple of games."

Oregon State lost to Stanford, 36-28, and Penn State, 45-14, before beating Hawaii, 45-7.

USC's front seven has the Trojans first nationally in scoring defense and second in total defense. The Trojans are also atop the Pac-10 in turnover margin at plus-4.

Back loaded

Joe McKnight broke from the tailback rotation and carried 12 times against Ohio State. Whether that is a precursor to the rest of the season remains to be seen, but don't expect C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson or Allen Bradford to be thrilled with the same workload they got against the Buckeyes -- none carried more than five times.

Jacquizz Rodgers, a 5-foot-6 freshman from Texas, leads the Beavers in rushing, averaging 88 yards.

Turf toe

Alexis Serna kicked four field goals against USC in the Beavers' victory two years ago, so the Trojans are thankful the 2005 Groza Award winner from Fontana has moved on.

Justin Kahut has made two of five field-goal attempts for the Beavers, and Sean Sehnem is one for one.

USC's David Buehler made his only field-goal attempt in the season opener against Virginia.

Special guest

He might not rank with Denzel Washington and the other celebrities on USC's sideline during home games, but Jeff Van Orsow is sure to be cheered by Oregon State fans when he presents the game ball to a corporate sponsor before kickoff.

In 2006, Van Orsow deflected John David Booty's two-point conversion pass attempt to Dwayne Jarrett, preserving Oregon State's 33-31 upset victory.

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By the numbers

*--* USC CATEGORY OSU 43.5 Scoring 29.0 5.0 Scoring defense 29.3 267.0 Passing offense 307.3 186.0 Rushing offense 131.7 453.0 Total offense 439.0 145.5 Passing defense 153.3 51.5 Rushing defense 158.7 197.0 Total defense 322.0 *--*

gary.klein@latimes.com

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