USC’s defense has rounded into top form.
That’s bad news for Washington State’s inexperienced backfield.
The top-ranked Trojans bring a 16-game winning streak and a confident defensive unit into Pullman to face the struggling Cougars in a Pac-10 matchup Saturday night.
USC (7-0, 4-0) has surrendered seven points in its last nine quarters, and ranks third in the country in points allowed at 10.7 per game.
“We’re getting it going on defense. We’ve gotten way better in the last few weeks,” said coach Pete Carroll, whose Trojans have won 16 straight since losing at California in triple-overtime on Sept. 27 of last season.
Carroll’s team avenged that defeat by winning 23-17 on Oct. 9 against a Cal team which has averaged nearly 46 points against its other five opponents. The following week, USC shut down standout quarterback Andrew Walter and then-No. 15 Arizona State in a 45-7 victory.
Last week, the Trojans handed Washington its first shutout loss since 1981, 38-0.
“We finally found our identity on defense, learning who can play and getting our stuff together for the big charge in the end,” said defensive tackle Shaun Cody, who is tied with Lawrence Jackson for the team lead with six sacks.
USC tops the Pac-10 with 30 sacks and 21 forced turnovers, while sitting just a yard behind Cal for the lead in total defense, allowing 269.9 yards per game. No opponent has scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Trojans this season.
“Our defense is the best in the country—they prove it week in and week out,” USC quarterback Matt Leinart said. “They bring a lot of pressure, they do everything that’s expected.”
Redshirt freshman Alex Brink will be facing that pressure Saturday in his second start for the Cougars (3-4, 1-3) since replacing Josh Swogger, who’s out for the season with a broken foot. Brink got his first collegiate start in last Saturday’s 38-19 loss to Oregon State, going 15-of-41 for 201 yards with two interceptions and getting sacked four times.
“I felt like a could have played better,” Brink said. “If I did play better, we could have won.”
Washington State also may go with a backup at tailback for the second straight game. Starter Chris Bruhn might not be able to return after sitting out last week with an injured shoulder.
Junior college transfer Jerome Harrison started in his place and rushed for 98 yards with a touchdown.
Whoever gets the bulk of the carries will be facing a USC defense allowing an average of 82.4 rushing yards—fewest in the Pac-10.
A fourth straight 10-win season is out of reach for the Cougars, who have dropped three straight since opening 3-1.
This is the first time a team ranked No. 1 has ever played in Pullman, though the Cougars did host then-No. 1 USC in 1972 in Seattle and lost 44-3.
Though USC holds a 51-8-4 lead in the series with Washington State, the teams have split the last six meetings and the Trojans lost 30-27 in overtime in 2002 in their last visit to Pullman.