Washington State-USC: Will the Trojans Be on Holiday in Pullman?

Lew WrightSenior Writer IOctober 16, 2008

For the eighth time this season, it's Football Friday.  In case you're not familiar with the double eff, the tradition calls for donning your best crimson and gray duds and strutting your stuff here, there and everywhere.
It's all about anticipating the game on Saturday.  

It's all about displaying your true colors.  

It's all about Cougar Pride.

Working his way through a full Pac-10 schedule for the first time, Coach Paul Wulff may very well feel less pressure this week than he has all season.  Coach Wulff and his staff are preparing the Cougs to take on the best football team in college football this season, the Trojans of USC.

No one outside of the Palouse gives WSU a chance to win this game.  No one.

Coach Pete Carroll has not only assembled an awesome collection of athletes, his team can also beat any team in the country.  The Trojans wouldn't be an underdog against any opponent with the players they can put on the field.

Polls try to fool people into believing USC isn't the No. 1 team.  Right.  Polls are polls.  Even midway through this season, polls are still pretty useless.  OK, they serve a purpose by providing a topic of debate at the local pub over a couple of drafts.

Experts have already settled the game scheduled to be played at Martin Stadium in Pullman.  USC is a mere 40+ point favorite. Hard to argue the point differential when WSU has been losing big time to every Division I team on the schedule.

Injuries have sabotaged the changes Coach Wulff planned for the WSU football program this year.

However, injuries have been a thorn in the side of Coach Carroll as well.

How the two teams have been affected by injuries defies description.

It's possible Coach Wulff will have to start a different player at quarterback for the fourth time in eight games.  His search for someone to call signals has nothing to do with performance on the field.  It has everything to do with who is healthy enough to walk up to the line, look over the defense, and bark out cadence.

Gary Rogers went down for the season.  Kevin Lopina went down in the same game, but might return under center to lead the offense against the USC defense.  The starter last week, Marshall Lobbestael, is lost for the season.  If Lopina isn't ready to come back on Saturday, it's possible that freshman J.T. Levenseller will start for the Cougs.

It's likely that flashy USC running back Joe McKnight won't even make the trip.  McKnight has a sore toe.  Seriously, he has a turf toe injury.

Compare that with Rogers (broken neck), Lopina (broken back), and Lobbestael (blown out ACL and MCL) and you won't get much sympathy from here or anywhere else in Cougar Nation.

Get this: McKnight is quoted in response to his injury, "If we were playing someone else, I'd probably go." Nice talk, player.

Compare that with Lopina's attitude.  He wants to come back early because of his passion for the game and playing for Coach Wulff.  The guy broke a bone in his back a few weeks ago, people!

A quick review of stats for both clubs leaves you with the impression that this game will be a mismatch of monumental proportion.

Let me tell you this.  Don't be so quick to dismiss Washington State.

The Cougs haven't been able to put together four consistent quarters of football this season.  There are two factors contributing to this model for self-destruction: injuries and bringing in a new system with the new coaching staff.

No predictions of the outcome are forthcoming, but take this to the bank: This Washington State team will come out of the tunnel Saturday afternoon ready to play football.  Martin Stadium will be standing room only. The Cougs will feed off the energy of fans there to support them.

Staying on the topic of injuries, there will be new faces running the football for WSU against the Trojans. The trio of Chantz StadenMarcus Richmond, and Logwone Mitz will rotate carrying the rock.

Staden and Richmond depend on moves and speed to gain yards. Mitz is more of a north-south style runner. They have all had some game reps this season.  Against USC, they are the running game.

Lopina will try to crank it up again after weeks on the sidelines.  He's probably not as much a threat to tuck the ball away and run because of the back injury.  It's likely he will be rusty passing the ball at game speed because he hasn't been in there.

But given the chance, Lopina is a competitor that has been studying films of the Trojan defense.  On that score, he is prepared.

If the Cougs are going to surprise USC, the defense is going to have to play an entire game the way they played the second quarter against Oregon State last week.  They can do it.  The question is, "Will they?"

There's a good chance of light rain Saturday with game time temperature about 20° cooler than the visiting Trojans are used to in Los Angeles.  Yes, it will begin cooling off after the first quarter.  Fortunately Joe McKnight will be at home nursing his sore toe under a warm blankie.

Trust me.  Pullman is no place for Coach Carroll and the Trojans to enjoy a vacation.  If the boys from USC overlook this game, the Cougs might just see a light at the end of the tunnel leading to the turnaround of Washington State football.



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