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USC looking for a complete-game victory ... in football

The No. 20 Trojans are 3-0 but have been so unimpressive that they've dropped six spots in the AP poll. Saturday's game at Washington State offers a chance for the Trojans to end September with a strong all-around performance, before the schedule turns mean next month.

September 24, 2010|By Gary Klein

With a tougher October looming, USC looks to play a complete game and remain unbeaten with a performance that might end its slide in the Associated Press poll. Washington State is thinking upset but would probably settle for a competitive showing. Staff writer Gary Klein looks at the issues surrounding the game:

Who's No. 1?

Allen Bradford made a strong push last week to replace Marc Tyler as USC's starting tailback, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown at Minnesota. But the fifth-year senior says his only concern is staying ready to contribute whenever called upon.

Replays showed that Tyler didn't really fumble last week, but he still paid the price and opened the door for Bradford. Tyler was limited during the week because of a sore hip, and if the Trojans opt to shield the junior from further injury against an undermanned opponent, freshman Dillon Baxter might get his first major opportunity. Senior fullback Stanley Havili also could finally play a prominent role.

Washington State running back James Montgomery has already won by being on the field after a knee injury last season almost cost him a leg. The 5-10, 200-pound senior had a 70-yard run against Montana State, but he has averaged only 57 yards a game and now goes up against a Trojans defensive line that shut down Minnesota's rushing game.

Starting over

Matt Barkley got through the first two games without an interception before Minnesota picked off two of his passes. The turnovers stalled the offense, so Barkley needs to get back on track with games coming up next month against Washington, Stanford, California and Oregon.

Barkley, ranked 16th nationally in passing efficiency, has been at his best when the Trojans are in a two-minute offense. He has a sore calf and neck, injuries suffered when he was pulled to the ground by his facemask against Minnesota.

Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel, a sophomore from Fresno, showed flashes of talent last season at the Coliseum and he is off to a pretty good start, passing for five touchdowns with one interception. But Washington State quarterbacks have been sacked 10 times and the Trojans defensive line is eager to show it can not only stop the run but also pressure the passer.

Motivating forces

Before taking on Jake Locker and Washington next week, USC needs to put together a solid effort on offense, defense and special teams.

The Trojans did not mess around the last time they visited Pullman, scoring 10 touchdowns in a 69-0 victory. They could use another statement game today after dropping two spots in the AP poll after each of their three victories.

Washington State's only victory was by one point over Montana State, a Football Championship Subdivision team — another reminder that the Drew Bledsoe- Ryan Leaf-Jason Gesser days are long past.

Catching on quickly

USC's Robert Woods has established himself as a playmaker, making difficult catches as a receiver in the first two games and igniting the Trojans with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Minnesota.

The freshman from Gardena Serra High has averaged 13 yards a catch.

Washington State's Marquess Wilson, a freshman from Tulare, Calif., has four receptions of 40 yards or longer and has twice amassed more than 100 yards receiving. The 6-3, 173-pound Wilson could pose problems if matched against USC freshman cornerback Nickell Robey, who is listed at 5-8.

Special delivery

USC will probably keep it interesting with more funky alignments on conversion attempts. Will the Trojans continue to go for two, or will they just try to give upcoming opponents something to think about?

Kicker Joe Houston is one for three on field-goal attempts, but both misses were from 48 yards. Jacob Harfman has averaged 41.4 yards a punt.

Washington State's Nico Grasu has made two of three field-goal attempts, including a 56-yarder against Oklahoma State. Reid Forrest averages 45 yards a punt.

gary.klein@latimes.com

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