Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (10-6, 3-0 at USC)
The Trojans come to Pullman undefeated, but like in 2009, they aren't blowing teams away. They have a new head coach in Lane Kiffin, who returns after previously being the offensive coordinator in charge of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Mike Williams, Steve Smith, and company.
OFFENSE 32.7 PPG, 6.5 YPP
Matt Barkley returns for his sophomore season and he has been much more efficient this time around. He is completing 65.5% of his passes and has thrown nine touchdowns to only two interceptions. He is not asked to carry this offense, but to complement the dominant running game, and has excelled so far.
Barkley spreads out the ball around a lot, but it appears his favorite red zone target is senior Ronald Johnson, who has caught 15 passes. Four of those have gone for touchdowns. True freshman Robert Woods (11 catches, 143 yards) is explosive and also returns kickoffs. The rest of the receiving corps is talented and there are six guys who have between 3 and 6 catches on the year.
In the run game, USC is four deep in talented backs. They are averaging a collective 5.56 yards an attempt. Junior Marc Tyler gets the most carries (44 for 254 yards) and senior Allen Bradford is putting up a ridiculous 8.39 yards a carry. In total, USC has ran the ball 14 more times than they've dropped back to pass so far this season. That efficient running game has led to a 48.65% conversion rate on third downs.
When the Trojans get in the endzone, Lane Kiffin vows that he will keep going for two. So far the strategy has not worked, as USC has converted only two of their seven 2-point attempts while converting all seven of their extra point tries.
DEFENSE 23.7 PPGA, 5.7 YPPA
USC's defense has been vulnerable against the pass. Brian detailed how they got shredded in their first game against Hawai'i. The unit is giving up 7.13 yards per pass attempt overall. The run defense has been better, as they are giving up just 3.55 yards per attempt.
Sophomore defensive back T.J. Mcdonald is the team's leading tackler, at least partially due to the high volume of passes the Trojans have seen. Opposing teams have dropped back to pass 26 more times than they have run in the first three games of the season. In the category of very unusual is that junior Jurrell Casey, a defensive tackle, is second on the team in tackles with 23.
The Trojans have sacked the opposing quarterback seven times this season and already have 15 tackles for loss overall. Sophomore Wes Horton leads the way with with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
The game plan for beating this defense has been established, and it involves the run-and-shoot style and a lot of crossing routes and short throws. The team is still trying to grasp Monte Kiffin's pro-style Tampa 2 defense.
I don't generally include this as part of the preview, but it is definitely worth mentioning for USC.
Washington State's improved special teams coverage will be severely tested this Saturday. Ronald Johnson is averaging 19.17 yards per punt return and has a touchdown. Robert Woods is averaging 25.3 yards per kick return and also has a touchdown. These guys can make game-changing plays (as Woods did against Minnesota). If WSU wants to hang around, they will absolutely need to shut the return game down.
The Trojans are in trouble if...The defense gives up lots of yards and points in the passing game. Hawai'i put a scare into them at the start of the season and gave every other team on their schedule a blueprint for success.