Here are the five key matchups to watch for tomorrow night:
(1) USC DE Lawrence Jackson vs. WSU RT Micah Hannam
We know DE Kyle Moore will bring the pressure from the weak side and NT Sedrick Ellis will supply the pressure up the middle, but if USC is to slow down the Cougars' wide open passing attack, then it must get something out of LoJack on the strong side of the defensive line. The Cougars will probably double-team Ellis and help the weak side OT by sending a RB to chip Moore. USC will have to start blitzing LB's and DB's if Jackson can't provide a consistent pass rush on Cougars QB Alex Brink.
(2) USC CB Terrell Thomas vs. WSU WR Michael Bumpus
Thomas is likely to line up in the slot as the nickel back in this game, which means that he'll draw the assignment of WSU's slot back, and most reliabe WR in Michael Bumpus. The Trojans play a lot of zone coverages, but when they do decide to lock up man to man, it is imperative that Thomas plays Bumpus tight and wraps up the receiver immediateley after the catch. Remember, Bumpus had a big game against the Trojans last season. If Thomas can disguise his coverages, than he'll make it harder for Brink to anticipate where he wants to go with the ball and prevent him from zeroing in on his guy. Otherwise, it'll be a very long night for Mr. Thomas.
(3) USC CB's Cary Harris and Shareece Wright vs. WSU WR's Brandon Gibson and Charles Dillon
With Thomas playing the nickel spot, Harris and Wright will be on the outside defending against the flanker Gibson and the split end Dillon. Gibson, who leads the team in receiving yards, is probably the Cougars most dangerous WR, while Dillon is a perfect complement to Gibson and Bumpus. Alex Brink is very good at distributing the ball to all of his weapons, so it will be difficult for the Trojans to key on any one WR. It will be important for Harris and Wright to stick to their defensive assignment, play tight coverage, and tackle well in the open-field.
(4) USC OT Sam Baker vs. WSU RDE's Mike Graise (6-2, 227)or Lance Broadus (6-2, 227)
The weak side defensive ends for the Cougars are quick, but undersized. Baker is very good in pass protection, so I wouldn't worry too much about the speed of the Cougars' ends. Baker should also have his way with both Graise and Broadus in the running game. Expect some big holes on the left side of the offensive line once again, as guard Jeff Byers and center Kris O'Dowd continue to maul people up front.
(5) USC WR David Ausberry (6-4, 224) vs. WSU CB's Devin Giles (6-0, 158) and/or Chima Nwachukwu (5-11, 189)
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian needs to involve Ausberry early and often, and exploit the incredible size advantage he has over the smaller Cougar defenders. Ausberry has had a couple of solid games so far, and with Turner's recent struggles, look for him to emerge as the John David Booty's go to guy at wide receiver.
Offensively, I expect the Trojans to come out and run the ball and continue to build on the momentum of last week's 313 rushing yards at Nebraska. USC should be able to duplicate that same effort against an undersized, and not very talented Cougars defense. Chauncey Washington, who was easily the Trojans' most impressive running back throughout fall camp, is back and healthy, while the emergence of Stafon Johnson and the steadiness of C.J. Gable have carried the torch in the USC running game so far. I want to see more of David Ausberry, Vidal Hazelton, and Travon Patterson, but I think that the coaching staff has found the team's identity, which is to run the football. Fullback Stanley Havili will have another big game though.
Defensively, I am very concerned with Washington State's passing game. Alex Brink is running this offense at a high level right now, and if he's given time to throw tomorrow night, then we could see a shoot out in the Coliseum. I think USC's emphasis on the running game, coupled with WSU completing several high percentage passes, will shorten the game in the first half. Brink will generate a couple of scoring drives and keep the Cougars close. Look for USC DE Kyle Moore to get a couple of sacks and the Trojans to cause a game changing turnover and pull away in the 2nd half...Prediction: USC 45, Washington State 27
RG3 -- With our suspect secondary, Wazzou will put up some points. Cary Harris and Terrell Thomas make the Dallas Cowboys secondary look like superstars. Hopefully Shareece Wright can step up and play lock-down defense. USC will need to showcase our offensive weapons. With Byers and Baker on the left side, expect Chauncey Washington to go dumb. Also, with the corner attempting to cover Ausberry weighing 158 lbs, Booty needs to unleash the Wizard of Auz. USC wins it big in the end. USC 49 Washington State 24.
Fight On! Beat the Cougars!