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Thursday, September 5, 2013
USC opens up at home with improved WSU

By Johnny Curren

LOS ANGELES -- No. 25 USC (1-0 overall, 0-0 Pac-12) will host Pac-12 foe Washington State (0-1 overall, 0-0 Pac-12) on Saturday in the Trojans’ conference and home opener. Coach Lane Kiffin’s squad kicked off the 2013 campaign in Honolulu last week with a 30-13 victory over Hawaii in a contest featuring some outstanding defense by USC, but also a somewhat lackluster offensive performance. The Trojans face a Cougars team that finished the 2012 season sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 North with a record of 3-9, but they do appear to be coming around in the second year under coach Mike Leach, playing Auburn tough last weekend in a 31-24 loss.

Offense
Scoring: 24 points per game (No. 9 Pac-12, No. 67 overall)
Rushing: 120 yards per game (No. 7 Pac-12, No. 79 overall)
Passing: 344 yards per game (No. 4 Pac-12, No. 15 overall)
Total: 464 yards per game (No. 6 Pac-12, No. 40 overall)

Quarterback: No. 12 Connor Halliday (6-foot-4, 190 pounds, RS Jr.)

The Trojans secondary will be tested by Halliday, who directs Leach’s up-tempo, Air-Raid offensive attack. Splitting time as a starter in 2012 for a Washington State team that compiled 3,965 total passing yards, he has the job all to himself now and started off the season by completing 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown against Auburn. He did, however, throw three interceptions.

Running Back: No. 34 Teondray Caldwell (5-8, 198, So.), No. 35 Marcus Mason (5-9, 188, Jr.), No. 43 Jeremiah Laufasa (5-10, 208, RS So.)

With so much focus on the pass, Wazzu averaged just 29.1 yards on the ground last season -- last in the nation -- but it came out and ran for 120 yards against the Tigers. Caldwell led the group with 53 yards on seven carries.

Wide Receiver: No. 19 Brett Bartolone (5-10, 187, So.), No. 84 Gabe Marks (6-0, 176, So.), No. 88 Isiah Myers (6-0, 185, Jr.), No. 84 River Cracraft (6-0, 198, Fr.), No. 80 Dom Williams (6-2, 192, RS So.), No. 5 Rickey Galvin (5-8, 178, RS Jr.)

Halliday spreads the ball over the field to a Cougars receiving corps marked by experience. Bartolone hauled in a team-best 53 catches in 2012, while Marks was the standout against Auburn, catching a career-high nine passes for 81 yards.

Offensive Line: LT No. 63 Gunnar Eklund (6-7, 300, RS So.), LG No. 56 Joe Dahl (6-4, 290, RS So.) C No. 60 Elliot Bosch (6-4, 280, RS Sr.), RG No. 77 John Fullington (6-5, 301, Sr.), RT No. 76 Rico Forbes (6-6, 300, RS Sr.)

A Cougars offensive line that gave up 57 sacks, worst in the country, while also struggling in the run blocking department last year could have its hands full against a talented USC front seven. Led by Bosch, the group did look better in its 2013 opener, giving up just two sacks while also opening up lanes for the rushing attack.

Defense
Scoring: 31 points per game (No. 7 Pac-12, No. 71 overall)
Rushing: 297 yards per game (No. 10 Pac-12, No. 104 overall)
Passing: 99 yards per game (No. 1 Pac-12, No. 6 overall)
Total: 396 yards per game (No. 6 Pac-12, No. 60 overall)

Defensive Line: T No. 98 Kalafitoni Pole (6-1, 302, RS Jr.), NT No. 95 Ioane Gauta (6-3, 285, Sr.), E No. 96 Xavier Cooper (6-4, 303, RS So.)

The defensive line played a big role in accumulating 92 tackles for loss last season, but it had difficulties in containing Auburn’s ground game in Week 1 and allowed several long runs, giving up a total of 297 rushing yards. Gauta led the unit with four tackles in their first game.

Linebacker: SAM No. 42 Cyrus Coen (6-0, 215, Jr.), MIKE No. 13 Darryl Monroe (6-1, 235, RS So.), WILL No. 10 Justin Sagote (6-0, 218, Sr.), BUCK No. 97 Destiny Vaeao (6-4, 290, So.)

A fast and physical group that spearheads the Cougars’ attacking 3-4 defense, the linebackers collected 23 of the team’s 35 sacks -- the No. 11 mark nationally -- in 2012. Monroe, who has compiled 86 tackles in 13 career starts, is a real talent on the inside, while the 290-pound Vaeao starts at the BUCK spot, a hybrid linebacker/end position. Kache Palacio (6-2, 225, So.) will also see time there.

Cornerback: No. 6 Damante Horton (5-10, 175, Sr.), No. 2 Nolan Washington (5-11, 182, RS Sr.)

The WSU cornerbacks weren’t challenged much in the team’s opener with Auburn putting the ball in the air just 20 times, but that won’t be the case against USC, which features 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee. Both Washington and backup Anthony Carpenter (6-0, 195, RS Sr.) went down with undisclosed injuries last weekend and their status is unknown, so promising freshman Daquawn Brown (5-11, 170) could see extended time against USC.

Safety: No. 20 Deone Bucannon (6-1, 215, Sr.), No. 30 Taylor Taliulu (5-11, 196, So.)

Bucannon, the starting strong safety, is the headliner of the entire defense. An All-Pac-12 second-team selection who led the team in tackles (106) and interceptions (4) as a junior, he paced the Cougars with 14 stops against Auburn.

Special Teams

Kicker: PK No. 49 Andrew Furney (5-10, 210, Sr.), KO No. 46 Mike Bowlin (6-4, 215, RS Sr.)
Furney has connected on 32 of 42 field goal attempts in his career. Bowlin has recorded 20 touchbacks on 52 kickoffs.

Punter: No. 46 Mike Bowlin (6-4, 215, RS Sr.)
Bowlin averaged 41.9 yards per punt in 2012, and 39.2 yards on five punts against Auburn.

Kick Returner: No. 34 Teondray Caldwell (5-8, 198, So.)
Caldwell finished No. 3 in the conference last season with an average of 25 yards per kick return.

Punt Returner: No. 23 Leon Brooks (5-7, 166, RS Sr.)
Brooks averaged 10.6 yards per punt return in 2012.