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USC FOOTBALL

Washington State may be perfect tonic for Trojans

USC, coming off an upset loss at Washington, is a 451/2-point favorite against the struggling Cougars.

September 26, 2009|Gary Klein

USC, attempting to bounce back from its loss at Washington, is a 45 1/2 -point favorite against Washington State, which last week defeated Southern Methodist in overtime. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the game's key issues and matchups:

USC Coach Pete Carroll gets what he wanted last week at Washington: Matt Barkley starting again at quarterback.

Barkley said this week that the bone bruise in his right shoulder was still causing pain when he threw passes. He made mostly soft throws during practices, but with only a walkthrough on Friday and a late start tonight, perhaps he will be closer to full strength.

Barkley back

Regardless, Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain figure to play.

It might not matter who directs the offense against a Washington State team that ranks last among Bowl Subdivision teams in pass defense and next to last in total defense.

Marshall Lobbestael, Washington State's sophomore quarterback, completed 24 of 52 passes against SMU, two for touchdowns with two interceptions.

He faces a USC defense that ranks 36th nationally against the pass but should be bolstered by the return of All-American safety Taylor Mays from a knee injury.

On the run

In USC's 69-0 victory over the Cougars last season, three Trojans tailbacks ran for more than 100 yards. It could happen again.

But after last week's debacle at Washington, USC's running backs might be as mindful about holding on to the ball as they usually are about counting carries.

Joe McKnight fumbled twice against Washington and is nursing an ankle sprain. Still, he and Stafon Johnson will probably get the bulk of the work.

Is this the game Allen Bradford breaks out and C.J. Gable plays meaningful snaps?

Washington State's best running back, James Montgomery, had season-ending -- and possibly life-saving -- leg surgery on Sunday. So Dwight Tardy enters the game as the Cougars' leading rusher, with 117 yards.

Lines of strength

USC's offensive line played well last week and the defensive line has impressed all season.

If USC gets up early, expect offensive tackle Matt Kalil and guard Khaled Holmes, both redshirt freshmen, to get plenty of game experience.

Defensive end Nick Perry, another redshirt freshman, leads the Pac-10 with four sacks.

Washington State gets no break, having to reshuffle its offensive line because of injuries.

Turnover time?

USC's offense got well-deserved if unwelcomed attention for committing three turnovers against Washington -- and narrowly avoiding several others.

But the Trojans' defense hasn't exactly helped the cause, recovering only two fumbles and intercepting one pass in three games.

Washington State linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Myron Beck each returned interceptions for touchdowns against SMU.

Something special

Washington State is hoping for some Stanford 2007 magic at the Coliseum, where the Cardinal upset the Trojans as a 41-point underdog.

If it happens, expect Washington State's Nico Grasu to be in the middle of it. He has made five of seven field-goal attempts, none more important than a 39-yard game-winner against SMU.

The Cougars' Reid Forrest ranks sixth nationally with an average of 45.5 yards a punt.

USC's Jordan Congdon has made three of four field-goal attempts. A career-long 47-yard attempt sailed through the uprights at the end of the first half last week at Seattle, but officials nullified the kick because time had expired before the ball was snapped.

Jake Harfman will do double duty, adding punting to his kickoff responsibilities.

By the numbers

(2009 averages)

*--* USC CATEGORY WSU 29.0 Scoring 21.0 11.3 Points given up 34.7 194.3 Passing offense 237.7 236.7 Rushing offense 105.0 431.0 Total offense 342.7 175.3 Passing defense 368.7 51.0 Rushing defense 168.3 226.3 Total defense 537.0 *--*

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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