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Looking forward to Saturday’s WSU game

COUGARS

Got some time in the Seattle airport, so I’m going to post our game day items and our advance story. That will be it for today unless something big happens. Read on.

••••••••••

• Here’s the story …

LOS ANGELES – They say the best turnovers in Los Angeles can be found at Eilat Bakery on Pico.

Paul Wulff knows better.

The best in LA are on the Coliseum’s turf.

“We need to be able to create turnovers on defense,” Washington State’s football coach said this week. “Any great team has that ability.”

The Cougars (1-2 overall, 0-1 in Pac-10 play) aren’t great yet, but their opponent tonight in the Coliseum, the USC Trojans, certainly have been the past seven seasons, all conference championship years.

But there is a common denominator whenever the Trojans lose, as they did last week in Seattle, 16-13, to Washington, nearly a three-touchdown underdog.

“Whenever we’ve been beaten,” USC coach Pete Carroll said, “that’s how the scenario’s been built, we turn the football over a lot. When we don’t turn the ball over, we win.”

Three turnovers inside the UW 30 were the foundation of last week’s upset. And Wulff hopes his team, a 45-point underdog, can continue a two-week trend of coming up with fumbles and interceptions.

“Pete Carroll has stated the same thing I’ve been stating since I’ve been here,” said Wulff, in his second season at WSU. “We led the nation in (turning the ball over) last year. You lose games. When we turn the ball over this year, we lose games, clearly.

“You can talk about Xs and Os, you can talk about coaching, you can talk about talent, when you turn that darn ball over, you’re going to probably lose games.”

WSU came up with four interceptions last week – two returned for touchdowns – and that powered a 30-27 overtime win over Southern Methodist. The Cougars recovered four fumbles against Hawaii the week before, but turned it over seven times – three interceptions and four fumbles – and lost 38-20.

So Wulff knows his team’s best chance will be built on turnovers.

“Even mighty USC proved that last week,” Wulff said of the correlation between turnovers and defeats. “I know people want to look deeper than that, but those are some real simple facts.”

•••

• And here is all the game-day stuff …

Washington State at USC

Kickoff: 7:15 p.m., Los Angeles Coliseum

TV: FSN

Radio: KXLY 920-AM

• Tale of the tape

Washington State Cougars

Record: 0-1 Pac-10, 1-2 Overall

Coach: Paul Wulff, second season

USC Trojans

Record: 0-1, 2-1 Overall

Coach: Pete Carroll, ninth season

• Trends

Last meeting:

10/18/08

USC 69, WSU 0

Last week:

WSU defeated SMU, 30-27 (OT)

USC lost to Washington, 16-13

Series: USC leads 56-8-4

When the Cougars run: With an offensive line missing two of its best run blockers, open holes this week would be problematic even if the opponent didn’t boast the Pac-10 best run defense. But USC does, and WSU will have to try to attack without its most explosive runner, James Montgomery, out for the season with his calf injury. Trying to gain any yardage on the ground tonight is going to be a challenge, let alone break a big play. EDGE: USC

When the Cougars pass: Even with the quarterback play spotty at times, even with the line’s protection needing to improve, even with a handful of drops last week, WSU is fourth in the Pac-10 in passing yardage, averaging 237.7 yards a game. But the Cougars haven’t faced a defense like the Trojans just yet. With the front seven supplying pressure and the secondary flying around, USC’s pass defense hasn’t been yielding much, just 175.3 yards a game, third in the conference. EDGE: USC

When the Trojans run: Had USC held on to the ball against UW, the story out of the Northwest this week would have been about the Trojans’ potent rushing attack gaining 250 yards rushing. Instead, it’s all about the upset. The massive USC offensive line will give most teams in the conference trouble and the Cougars are no exception. Even though they’ve played against two pass-first teams, they are still last in the Pac-10 in rush defense. EDGE: USC

When the Trojans pass: If Matt Barkley were still unavailable – the true freshman quarterback will start after missing last week’s upset at Washington – this category might fall in WSU’s column. After all, even though the Cougars have given up more than 1,000 yards in three games, they have picked off four passes and forced nine turnovers, tied for first in the conference. And USC is averaging less than 200 yards a game through the air. EDGE: USC

Coaching/intangibles: Heck, just the fact the Trojans were upset in Seattle last weekend would be enough to give them the edge here, but there’s a lot more to add. There’s the pummeling coach Pete Carroll has been getting all week in the LA media, leading the players to rally round college football’s most successful coach. And then there’s the home field, with more than 75,000 fans ready to make sure WSU has no chance. EDGE: USC

Smoke: Late summer and early fall used to be hazy in Pullman not that long ago, when farmers torched their fields to stimulate new growth. But those days are long gone, thanks to government regulations and new practices. The hills around Los Angeles, however, are still burning, the newest smoke-producing fire located in the hills of the Valley northwest of downtown. The haze from fires is still a companion of Los Angelinos whenever the Santa Ana winds blow. EDGE: WSU

• 3 things to watch

Keys to today’s Washington State-USC matchup

1. Are the Cougars loose at the start: Even coach Paul Wulff has noticed it. The last two games, his team has come out tight, trying so hard to get everything perfect that very little goes right. He’s done what he could this week to avoid that, with the coaches trying to inject some levity into practice at times. But the atmosphere WSU faces tonight – a large crowd in the Coliseum under the lights and on national television – may make it tough for the young Cougars – nine first- or second-year players will start – to relax.

2. Whether Taylor Mays plays: The best defensive player in the Pac-10, if not the nation, did not play a down against the Huskies, dealing with a knee strain. He’s only participated in a few drills this week, though Carroll told the LA Times on Thursday, “He’s ready to go.” Mays, however, said it was “50-50” whether he would play. If he doesn’t, that’s big for WSU. Mays not only makes plays all over the field, he can intimidate receivers just because he’s such a big hitter.

3. WSU’s attitude: Considering the opponent and where the game is being played, there’s a good chance Washington State will fall behind at some point in this game. Last year, when that happened WSU basically gave up and USC – and others in the Pac-10 – rolled. That can’t happen tonight. No matter the final score, how hard the Cougars play might say more about their chances the rest of the year than any statistic.

• 3 names to know

DAMIAN WILLIAMS

USC WIDE RECEIVER

Williams started his college career at Arkansas, but he transferred to USC along with quarterback Mitch Mustain in 2007. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Williams led the Trojans in receptions last season, catching 58 passes for 869 yards. The junior hasn’t slowed down this season, catching 11 passes for 158 yards. He’s also averaging more than 10 yards per punt return, giving USC another game-breaking threat.

DANIEL BLACKLEDGE

WSU WIDE RECEIVER

When Jeshua Anderson decided to give up football, it opened some opportunities for his good friend and roommate. Since then Blackledge has emerged as one of the Cougars’ better possession receivers. The junior from Colorado Springs is tied for the team lead with 11 receptions, including 4 for 39 last week. He also pulled in his first career touchdown reception, a 3-yard pass from Marshall Lobbestael.

CHRIS GALIPPO

USC MIDDLE LINEBACKER

No one wants to be the guy who follows a legend, but that’s what’s befallen Galippo. The sophomore has been tagged to fill the role held by All-American Rey Maualuga, now starting for the Cincinnati Bengals. Galippo was listed as Maualuga’s backup last season, but rarely played. So far this season the 6-2, 250-pound Galippo has held up the tradition by leading the Trojans in tackles, with 22, including 12 unassisted. He also has four tackles for loss, half a sack and the Trojans only interception, which he returned for 51 yards against Ohio State.

• This and that from today’s game …

How many times have Washington and Washington State both defeated USC in the same season? How about twice, 1934 and 1997. … This is the fourth time this decade the Trojans have played the Washington schools back-to-back. Those are also the only times it ever happened. … USC punter Billy O’Malley is last in the Pac-10, averaging 37.3 yards a punt. So he’s been replaced. Jake Harfman will do the punting for the Trojans. WSU’s Reid Forrest leads the conference at 45.5. … The Trojans seem to bounce back well after conference losses in the Pete Carroll era. The last three times USC has lost its Pac-10 road opener, it has bounced back to post long winning streaks. After a 2002 loss, 11 consecutive games; after 2003, a school-record 34; and after last year, 12. … USC has won the last six games in the series. … The Trojans have won their last 28 night games at home. … In last year’s loss to USC, WSU never passed the 50-yard line. … USC linebacker Malcolm Smith is out with a high ankle sprain. He’ll be replaced by Jordan Campbell.

•••

• That’s it for today unless, like I said, something big happens. We’ll be back in the morning with our usual post along with a few notes. Until then …


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