(STATS LLC) — Southern California has endured a lackluster start to the season but seems to be facing the perfect opponent to begin Pac-10 play Saturday.
The 20th-ranked Trojans look to win their eighth straight meeting with a Washington State team that has lost 11 in a row to FBS opponents.
USC (3-0) heads to Pullman after dropping two spots in the Associated Press Top 25 following a 32-21 win at Minnesota last Saturday. It marked the second straight week that Matt Barkley’s passing yardage went down as he threw for 192 yards, two touchdowns and his first two interceptions of the season.
The Trojans finished with 38 rushes while throwing the ball only 26 times. Allen Bradford led the three-back attack by running for 131 yards and a score.
“The running game was on fire,” Barkley said. “Marc Tyler and even C.J. Gable there at the end, they were hitting the holes hard. That is what you need when the passing game isn’t working.”
Lane Kiffin’s offensive line looks to be better at run blocking than pass protection — the Trojans are averaging 5.6 yards per rush — and the coach hopes the power his team has shown up front is a sign of things to come.
“We’d like that to be our personality,” said Kiffin, trying to become the first USC coach to start his career 4-0 since Jess Hill in 1951.
Bradford finished with the second-highest rushing total of his career on just 13 attempts, and he may have earned the start this week. Tyler had nine carries for 33 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown, while Dillon Baxter added 25 yards on seven attempts and Gable rushed for 36 on six carries.
“I knew once my number was called I was going to go out there and play hard,” Bradford said. “I was supposed to be the starter but things happen. Whenever an opportunity comes knocking, I’m going to answer.”
Kiffin defended his penchant for trying 2-point conversions on three of USC’s five touchdowns. All three attempts failed while Joe Houston — who missed a 48-yard field goal — made both of his extra-point tries.
“There are certain looks on our 2-point conversions where we’re going to go for it,” the coach said. “They’re not all going to work, but we’d like to think that when we make those decisions, the percentages are in our favor.”
USC is not eligible to win the Pac-10 title this year, and Kiffin has said he believes the NCAA sanctions have created an “us-against-the-world mentality” with his team.
The Trojans likely won’t have to be at their best to handle Washington State (1-2), which has yielded a conference-high 122 points.
The Cougars also have been hampered by an offensive line that has allowed Jeff Tuel to be sacked a league-high 10 times. Washington State’s 2.8 yards-per-carry is the 16th-worst mark in the FBS and worst in the Pac-10.
Tuel was sacked four times in last week’s 35-21 loss at Southern Methodist. Washington State gave up three straight touchdowns to start the second half after the game was tied 14-14 at the break.
“If we came out in the second half like we did in the first half we would have been in the game,” defensive back Deone Bucannon said.
Bucannon is one of 42 players from the state of California for the Cougars while the Trojans have no players from Washington.
Washington State’s 11-game FBS losing streak began with a 27-6 loss at USC last Sept. 26. Barkley threw for 247 yards and two TDs to earn his first Pac-10 win as the Trojans scored 20 first-quarter points and cruised.
That contest marked the collegiate debut of Tuel, who completed 14 of 22 passes with one interception and was sacked four times.
The Trojans have won nine of their last 10 trips to Pullman, including a 69-0 rout two years ago.