The Skinny: Efficiency and Improved Passing Game Key vs. Cougars

In a battle between last place teams in the Pac-10 standings, the 12th ranked Trojans (2-1) face an overmatched Washington State Cougars (1-2) team on Saturday at 7:15 pm in the Coliseum.

Though the Cougars are coming off an exciting come from behind overtime win against SMU, they are limping into the Coliseum and will have a tough time putting up much of a fight against the Trojans.

The main goals for the Trojans are to work on eliminating crucial mental mistakes that plagued the team in Seattle (penalties and turnovers) and making progress in the passing game.

Six things to look for in the Coliseum on Saturday:

1-Dominant defensive performance: The Cougars started the season with the dubious distinction of having the least amount of talent in the Pac-10 and just three games into the season they are already down 4 starters on the offensive side of the ball. They have lost two starting offensive lineman, the #1 Wide Receiver left the team to focus on track and the starting Running Back injured his knee against SMU and is out for the year.

USC’s Defensive Line will absolutely dominate the line of scrimmage allowing them to pressure the QB while being able to drop the Linebackers into coverage. The Trojans should also be able to man-up the Wide Receivers in tight coverage allowing the Linebackers and Safeties to make plays on the ball. The Trojans should come up with at least 2 to 3 turnovers.

-What to look for offensively after the jump!

2- All eyes on Barkley: Though Matt Barkley is returning to the line-up, he still looks to be about 75-80%. The velocity on his throws is still down but that could be a product of the coaches and trainers holding him back while he continues to heal his bruised shoulder. Either way, expect Barkley to be a little rusty and still show signs of adjusting to the college game. Though he had the game winning drive against Ohio State, keep in mind that he was 11 for 25 going into the drive and he is a true freshman.

It will be very interesting to see how he looks in a game situation. Expect efficient numbers but not a great performance. It is imperative he escapes the Coliseum without further trauma to his throwing shoulder with USC visiting Berkeley next week.

3- Tight End involvement: The coaches are aware of the fact that starting in 2004, with the exception of the Stanford loss, the Tight End position has only 1 or 2 catches when the Trojans have lost. Though many factors play into the losses it is a coincidence that needs to be addressed. On the flip side, when the Tight End has 5-7 catches the scores tend to be lopsided in the Trojans favor. Don’t be surprised to see Anthony McCoy or Blake Ayles lumbering down the field on Saturday.

4- Deeper Wide Receiver rotation: The Trojans need to get better production out of the passing game to have any chance of running the table and this game provides a good opportunity to see if players not in the regular rotations can step up and add another dimension to the passing game.

Though Coach Carroll has stated that true Freshman De’Von Flournoy still isn’t quite where he wants him, I expect to see him get into the regular rotation on Saturday. The Trojans need to have a big play threat in the rotation until Ronald Johnson gets back and he makes the most sense.

Also look for Joe McKnight to line up more in the slot position.

5- Bradford and Gable: The coaches are tired of the fumbles. Allen Bradford and CJ Gable should finally get meaningful carries. Look for both to run hard and take advantage of the opportunity. . .especially Bradford.

6- Improved special teams play: Look for some improvement on punting depth and hang time with Jake Harfman taking over for Billy O’Malley. Harfman has also made a few adjustments to his kick-offs and they should be improved as well. Don’t be surprised if Mitch Mustain gets a look at punter if the Trojans are comfortably ahead. He bombed a 63 yarder in practice on Thursday but still needs to work on his hang time.

This will probably be a reminder of the San Jose State game with a few more downfield throws. If the Trojans do not turn the ball over on their side of the field they should be able to pitch a shut-out when the defensive starters are in the game.

A few more notes heading into Saturday:

*Safety Taylor Mays is still not 100% but it sounds like he has the green light to start the game on Saturday. However, he is still a game time decision. If he does play I would suspect that he will rotate out more than usual. The key is to get him some actual game reps as the leader of the defense heading into the Cal game.

*Linebacker Malcolm Smith will miss the game with a high ankle sprain. He should be back for the Cal game. Jordan Campbell will start in his place with Shane Horton backing him up.

*If Barkley is injured or something is not right with him, the offensive staff will go with Corp first but I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see Mitch Mustain get a chance to challenge Corp for the back-up spot. Corp is definitely the back-up but Carroll said the following regarding Mustain which shows he is aware of his tendency to play better in games. “With Mitch, he’s been a great player all through high school. He started as a freshman (at Arkansas) and won games until they sat him down. I think he’ll definitely be a better gamer. We’ve seen that in scrimmages. But that’s a hard element to deal with because you’re not sure how he’s going to play. Then, he doesn’t play a lot, and you don’t see it. It’s a hard call.”


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