<
>

5 things to watch: USC vs. Washington State

9/25/2010

1. Untangling the tailbacks: If USC really is a power-running team, it would be nice if they could have one ball carrier step to the front. Thus far, the Trojans have had three different tailbacks as leading rushers. With Marc Tyler limited with a hip-flexor injury in practice last week, it might be another week to shine for fifth-year senior Allen Bradford. Then again, the Cougars may not have anyone fast enough to catch freshman Dillon Baxter.

2. Stopping the bleeding: This Trojan defense has not proven skillful at forcing turnovers and the offense, against Minnesota, looked sloppy with the ball at times. If USC can keep the ball to itself and maybe pry one loose from WSU, it could turn this game into a nice, orderly rout where nobody gets hurt and everybody makes their flights back to L.A.

3. Trusting the twos: If I were Lane Kiffin, I wouldn't have much faith in the second units either. In two of the games, the second-team offense has turned the ball over late in the game. In all three games, the backup defense has yielded a touchdown inside the final three minutes. That's probably why this week's line opened at USC minus-24, but quickly moved to 21. There's no reason USC shouldn't be able to beat WSU primarily using backups unless, that is, they keep performing as they have been.

4. Kicking the dang ball: This coaching staff apparently thinks it has outsmarted every other football coach in America, because it continually defies the percentages and tries two-point conversions that don't work. The Trojans failed on three of them against Minnesota (see above note, about not covering spreads).

5. Charting the Cougs: In a game like this, you can usually tell early on how the underdog team is treating it. If the Cougars seem tentative and are making conservative play calls, they probably are playing to keep it close. If they're hitting hard on defense and trying some innovative things on offense, they might feel they have a chance at the upset. Talk about a good way to jump-start your program.