Coach Bill Doba said Thursday Washington State is going through their regular routine, right down to scripting the first 10 plays. If the game doesn't unfold as expected however, Doba said the Cougs could go off script and junk the first few planned plays, it all depends. Thursday's practice, although non contact, also lets the staff see if the things brought in for that week are being satisfactorily executed or if some of it should be pulled back out.
And so what if the Trojans haven’t lost a Pac-10 conference game in the last 24? Who really notices a record of 48 wins in the last 50? After all, Robb Akey can’t control what they do in all those other games. But he is betting on his guys to continue improving and execute their defensive game plan the way they know how.
‘If we’re playing the kind of season we expect to play, then that means every game will be a big game," Akey said. "They’re the ones with the pressure on them. They’ve got to try to keep the streak alive."
Akey said over the last couple weeks, the defense has cleaned things up and he hopes to keep the stop corps performing strongly, which means limiting the big play in both the ground and air game.
"Our expectations are to perform the way we have been in the last couple weeks -- handling the running game and making big plays in our favor. Hopefully that will outweigh the big plays that they’re going to make," Akey said. "If we eliminate their big plays, then we’ll be in good shape."
Akey said the issue facing the defense this week is a well balanced offense. In the last three games, USC has thrown the ball 116 times and run it 106, so there isn’t one particular area to key on.
"We’ve got to be where we belong at all points in time," Akey said. "We’ve got obviously a stronger opponent coming in to town this week and if we perform better against them, then that gives us the opportunity to do the kinds of things that we want to," Akey said. "I’d like to see a strong defensive performance."
Running backs coach Kelly Skipper, who also coaches the Cougar special teams, echoed Doba's comments this week, on expecting to win versus thinking you can win.
"USC’s a great team and we just need to go in there, expect to win and make a lot of great plays," said Skipper.
DOBA ON THURSDAY wanted to move away from talk surrounding the kicking game and the struggles of Loren Langley, but provided some insight on the situation nonetheless.
"Leave the kid alone," said Doba in response to a reporter's question on when Doba may attempt field goals and when they'll go for it on fourth down. "If it's the end of the game and the score's tied and we need a 50-yarder, he'll kick it. But if it's (an earlier) fourth-and-three or four on the 25-yard line, we'll go for it.
"And we'll see how he warms up -- if he kicks all three of them through and he looks like he's hitting it...then we'll use him. I don't want to put him out there for 45 and 42 yard field goals and have him continue to miss, I think it's just going to continue to hurt his confidence. But if it's to win the game, if it's the end of the game, I don't care if it'll hurt his confidence, we'll try it."
Doba also pointed out the risk/reward aspect of missing a field goal and converting on a big fourth down, from the momentum seized to scoring six points.
As to the Cougs' chances this week, Doba cited Colorado and Michigan State's near upsets of Georgia and Notre Dame as why they play the games.
"So it's anybody's game (this week)," said Doba. "They have to come to Pullman, which is difficult. Our stadium is not a fun place to play for our opponents, as a rule. And our turf...is new and (not yet packed down) so that will be a little different for them."
There is little rhyme or reason when trying to correlate how a team practices over the week to how they perform Saturday -- sharp practices just as often mean flat on Saturday as they do a team firing on all cylinders. For whatever it's worth, Doba said Tuesday, the learning day, saw a lot of mistakes with Wednesday "a little better defensively. We still weren't real real sharp offensively. Sunday and Monday, we have all kinds of ideas but sometimes they (don't end up) very practical."
Doba said starting running back DeMaundray Woolridge, who looked ultra-impressive against Auburn before suffering a deep thigh bruise, has healed from the injury and is no longer limited by it's effects. "He looked good all this week in practice," said Doba.
Aaron Johnson has been limited in practice this week but Doba said the defensive tackle should play against USC. Doba did not specify the injury. Ropati Pitoitua and Fevaea'i Ahmu, who started together inside against Stanford for the first time this year, are expected to start again Saturday with Johnson a frequent contributor. Backups Matt Eichelberger and Bryan Tarkington, both on the rise according to d-line coach Mike Walker, have also seen time in rotation this year. Ahmu and Broadus have also been limited some this week, more for precautionary reasons than anything else.
Center Josh Duin (MCL) is out for Saturday. Kenny Alfred, who has been sharing time with Duin this season, is expected to take his place. Duin, a senior, sprained an MCL against Stanford last week. The starters figure to be LT O'Connor, LG Dan Rowlands, C Alfred, RG Andy Roof, RT Charles Harris. Derek Hunter and Jacob McKinney are the first two options off the bench, with Micah Hannam, whom the Cougs would prefer to redshirt, on red alert. Offensive linemen Justin Luafalemana is available, said Doba, but Kevin Friberg is likely not healed enough to play.
Bobby Byrd, Chris Jordan and Markus Dawes are all out for Saturday.
Doba said a general rule of thumb to start the game is to try and match your strength against the team's lesser of two units and gain the upper hand at field position. For USC, who comes into the game with a very strong defense and likely missing their best player on offense in receiver Dwayne Jarrett, Doba said he'd probably go on defense to open the game if given the choice.
Tight end Jesse Taylor may only be available for special teams duty, said Doba, as he continues to come back from a knee sprain.
As Nike is to Oregon, Russell Athletic is to Washington State. Apparently in an effort to borrow a page from Nike's PR Handbook, Russell announced this week that the Cougars will be sporting a new look in Saturday's nationally televised (TBS) game with USC. Not even the coaches know yet what they'll see when they enter the lockerroom.