Revenge? Let's just say USC won't sleep on Oregon State this time

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It's not about revenge. But you know it is.

USC coach Pete Carroll didn't get frothy this week reminding his players what happened last year at Oregon State. He didn't rant and rave about how the Beavers took something from the Trojans and made them look bad on national television in a 27-21 defeat.

"We've never used that," Carroll said. "We don't use last year or the years before for anything. It's clear to our guys that this is the team that got us last year and all that. That's nothing new. That's just the facts. I'm not going to spend any time on it."

Just the facts: If USC had not lost last year at Oregon State, it would have played for the national title. And it almost certainly would have been favored to win Carroll's third championship.

But Beavers then-true freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers and an inspired offensive line sliced and diced the nation's best defense with a fairly straight-forward zone blocking scheme. Carroll and USC fans surely can remember the endlessly spooled highlights of Rodgers scooting past three completely flummoxed All-American linebackers who would be high NFL draft picks last spring.

The circumstances aren't terribly different heading into this year's game.

USC (5-1, 2-1), ranked seventh in the first BCS standings, is again in the national title hunt. Oregon State (4-2, 2-1) appears to be, once again, finding its rhythm after a middling start.

Rodgers is back and is playing better than ever. He ranks ninth in the nation with 116 yards per game and leads the Pac-10 with 13 touchdowns, four of which he scored during an 189-yard effort against Stanford two weeks ago. He and his teammates also are rested after a bye week, while the Trojans are coming off a long and emotional trip after winning at Notre Dame.

Oregon State had a bye before last year's Thursday night game, as did the Trojans, who were ranked No. 1 after blasting Ohio State 35-3.

There is, however, one main difference this year.

The game is in the Coliseum. USC has won 46 of its past 47 games at home. And the Beavers haven't won at USC since 1960.

Moreover, there are two major questions that Oregon State will need to answer if it's going to end that streak of futility and, by the way, win its third game in four years against the Trojans.

First, how will Oregon State's pass defense contain the rapidly improving Matt Barkley, who passed for 380 yards and two touchdowns at Notre Dame?

The Beavers rank ninth in the Pac-10 in pass defense -- though they are fourth in pass efficiency defense -- and have struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Their four sacks rank 116th in the nation.

All four starters in the secondary from last year were replaced as well as both defensive ends.

"I think the secondary may actually be the strength of their team," USC receiver Damian Williams said. "They run well. They play great press defense. Their coaches have a lot of confidence in them. They put them out there on an island and tell them to go to work."

Williams, tight end Anthony McCoy and Ronald Johnson, who will start and should be sharper after coming back last week from a broken collarbone, will stress any secondary, though. Not to mention that Barkley's comfort level is clearly on the rise.

"I've really, really been impressed with Matt Barkley," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "I thought in the last game he played with a ton of poise, made some really, really big throws."

The second issue for Oregon State is how its young offensive line will match up against a USC front that ranks No. 1 in the nation with 26 sacks and fourth in the nation in run defense (68 yards per game).

That line has surrendered 19 sacks, which ranks ninth in the conference.

That means Rodgers needs to make plays in the running game, because the Beavers probably can't win if they don't obtain a modicum of offensive balance.

As far as the passing game, this will be a big road test for Sean Canfield. The senior wasn't the quarterback of record in last year's game -- that belonged to now-backup Lyle Moevao -- and playing USC on the road obviously offers some unique challenges.

Yet Canfield, much like his ascending team, appears to be peaking at the right time.

"Sean probably played his best two games as a Beaver the last two games, very efficient, very decisive and productive," Riley said. "He's thrown for a good percentage and has taken care of the ball and is getting rid of the ball more quickly in the last couple of weeks."

The general feeling was the Trojans felt unbeatable last year after blowing out Virginia and Ohio State, and they treated a visit to Corvallis as a big yawner. It's fair to suspect that because of the widely shared tale of USC's bus showing up at the Reser Stadium with most of the players asleep just hours before game time.

That won't happen Saturday.

Carroll won't use the revenge angle as a motivational ploy, but he doesn't deny it might focus his players.

"I think so," he said. "I do think they definitely have our attention."