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Minute drill

USC linebacker Devon Kennard, right, knows how to apply pressure to QBs. (Associated Press)
USC linebacker Devon Kennard, right, knows how to apply pressure to QBs. (Associated Press)

1 The top four tailbacks on USC’s stat sheet all can run and they average nearly 6 feet and 217 pounds. That is bigger than five of the Washington State defensive starters – linebacker Myron Beck and the entire secondary. Which makes it imperative the WSU defensive line maintains gap control, forcing the Trojans’ backs to negotiate some traffic before they get to second level. If they burst through a hole untouched, it’s going to be a challenge for the Cougars’ secondary to bring them down.

2 Not all pressure is equal. When an outside linebacker or a defensive end pressures a quarterback, usually he can step forward and deliver a pass with some zip. But when a defensive tackle or middle linebacker exerts pressure from up front, the quarterback has to make a throw without using his legs. And that’s a recipe for an interception. The Trojans exert the latter type of pressure often – half their sacks are credited to tackles and middle linebacker Devon Kennard. The Cougars will have to be stout inside if they want to move the ball through the air, and they do.

3 Reid Forrest is one of the better punters in the nation, averaging 44.9 yards every time he boots the ball. More important, only nine of his 20 punts have been returned, and those for only 40 yards – a 4.4-yard average. That’s a weapon used to flip field position. But USC has a weapon as well. He’s wide receiver Ronald Johnson and he’s returned six punts for 115 yards (19.2-yard average), including an 89-yarder against Hawaii. Add in Robert Woods’ 25.3 kickoff-return average – he went 97 yards for a game-turning score last week against Minnesota – and the Trojans’ return game is scary. WSU has improved on special teams. It must show today.

4 Emotions are an important part of football. No one can play the game well without being excited about it. But too much emotion can lead to inappropriate penalties, a couple of which hurt the Cougars last week in key situations. This is a crucial week to harness those emotions, because the Trojans have shown they really want to help. USC is the most penalized team in the Pac-10 and second nationally, averaging 107 penalty yards a game. The Trojans also seem to bring out the worst in their opponents, who have averaged 57.7 penalty yards. That’s still an extra 50 yards that USC must overcome.

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