- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
LOS ANGELES – Coming off a morale-boosting 19-3 victory over Utah, USC (5-3 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) will travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on Oregon State (6-2 overall, 4-1 Pac-12) in a rare Friday night clash. The Trojans defense came through with a rejuvenated effort against the Utes, but face a high-flying Beavers passing offense. Oregon State has dominated the lesser and more middle-of-the-road foes they’ve faced this fall, but have yet to record a signature victory, and were defeated 20-12 by No. 6 Stanford on Saturday. The Beavers do, however, have the added benefit of playing at home this week, where the Trojans have dropped three straight to OSU.
Scoring: 40.1 points per game (No. 3 Pac-12, No. 15 overall).
Rushing: 66.6 yards per game (No. 11 Pac-12, No. 122 overall).
Passing: 420.8 yards per game (No. 1 Pac-12, No. 1 overall).
Total: 487.4 yards per game (No. 4 Pac-12, No. 22 overall).
Quarterback: No. 4 Sean Mannion (6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Jr.)
Running Oregon State’s pro-style offense to perfection, Mannion has put up phenomenal numbers in 2013. Averaging 48.9 pass attempts per game, he’s connected on 69.1 percent of his throws for nation-best marks of 3,263 yards and 30 touchdowns, with just three interceptions.
Due in part to some injuries suffered along the line and in the backfield early on, as well as the emergence of the passing attack, the Beavers ground game has been virtually non-existent. Ward is Oregon State’s leading rusher with just 247 yards, but the tailbacks will be utilized frequently as pass-catchers -- Woods is No. 3 on the team with 32 receptions.
Cooks is having the best season of any wideout in the nation, currently leading the FBS in catches (85), receiving yards (1,256) and touchdown receptions (13). Mullaney and Cummings have established themselves as capable threats as well, combining for 61 grabs -- although Cummings’ status (wrist) is up in the air.
The tight end corps has been wracked by injuries, and both Hamlett (knee) and Smith (back) are dinged up. OSU head coach Mike Riley appears optimistic that Hamlett, who ranks No. 4 on the team with 25 catches, will be back in the lineup on Friday after missing the last two games.
Offensive line: No. 77 LT Michael Philipp (6-4, 328, Sr.), No. 69 LG Josh Andrews (6-3, 304, Sr.), No. 56 C Isaac Seumalo (6-3, 305, So.), No. 71 RG Grant Enger (6-6, 291, Sr.), No. 78 RT Sean Harlow (6-4, 284, Fr.)
While they’ve struggled in the run-blocking department, the Oregon State offensive line had performed solidly in terms of their pass-blocking through the team’s first seven games, allowing a total of just nine sacks. But then they ran into the vaunted Stanford front seven and were completely overmatched, allowing eight sacks.
Scoring: 27.4 points per game (No. 9 Pac-12, No. 65 overall).
Rushing: 138.4 yards per game (No. 4 Pac-12, No. 32 overall).
Passing: 242.9 yards per game (No. 7 Pac-12, No. 83 overall).
Total: 381.2 yards per game (No. 6 Pac-12, No. 47 overall).
The defensive line is led by Crichton, who paces the team with 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Starting off the season slow, this unit has started to come together, although they did allow Cardinal running back Tyler Gaffney to gain 145 yards and three touchdowns this past weekend.
The performance of the Oregon State linebackers has been largely up-and-down, and the Beavers miss the stability provided by Michael Doctor, who is out with an ankle injury. Johnson has played well in his first year as a starter, however, recording 55 tackles, but this group could be without Alexander, who is currently day-to-day with a shoulder injury. If he can’t go, Joel Skotte (6-2, 240, So.) is a possible candidate to move into the starting lineup.
One area where the Oregon State defense has excelled has been in forcing turnovers, thanks in part to the playmaking cornerback duo of Nelson and Reynolds. Nelson is tied for first nationally with five picks, and Reynolds is right behind him with four. As a team, the Beavers rank No. 6 in the FBS with 14 interceptions, and No. 7 with 21 total turnovers gained.
Since being torched in the team’s season-opening loss to Eastern Washington to a tune of 448 passing yards, the Beavers’ secondary, like much of the rest of the defense, has made strides. Zimmerman leads the team with 60 tackles.
Punter: No. 48 Keith Kostol (6-4, 199, Jr.)
Kostol averages 41.5 yards per punt.
Kicker: No. 12 Trevor Romaine (6-0, 199, Jr.)
Romaine has hit nine of his 12 field goal attempts in 2013, including a career-long 50-yarder against Stanford.
Punt returner: No. 7 Brandin Cooks (5-10, 186, Jr.)
Cooks, who averages 6.5 yards per return, is coming off his best outing on special teams of the season, taking one punt back 41 yards against the Cardinal.
Kick returner: No. 6 Victor Bolden (5-9, 165, Fr.), No. 28 Terron Ward (5-7, 202, Jr.)
The Beavers average 18.9 yards per kickoff return.