Halloween is the night before USC’s road matchup against Oregon State — but the Trojans won’t enter their own personal “House of Horrors” until Friday night in their return to Corvallis, Ore., where they haven’t won since 2004.
The Trojans (5-3, 2-2) were shocked by the Beavers (6-2, 4-1) in Reser Stadium in 2006 and 2008 by narrow margins before being shellacked 36-7 in 2010.
One might think that USC would be motivated to avenge the losses of their predecessors, but interim coach Ed Orgeron insists that the team is simply focused on recording their first road win as a team since former coach Lane Kiffin was fired — and he’s not even allowing Halloween festivities to distract the team.
“Tomorrow is Thursday, Friday is game day. That’s about all we know right now,” Orgeron said on Wednesday. “I quit [dressing up for Halloween] when I was about five.”
Even though the players on the field probably won’t be thinking about “Day of the Dead” festivities, the raucous Corvallis crowd could be even more rowdy than usual with the combination of a holiday weekend and a Friday night game.
USC has been preparing for a chaotic atmosphere this week by constantly playing the sound of a revving chainsaw during practices, a common sound byte employed by Oregon State during crucial moments of the game.
But ultimately, if the Trojans are to emerge victorious from Corvallis for the first time in nearly a decade, the main focus will have to be on stopping the Beavers’ vaunted aerial attack.
Oregon State boasts both a quarterback in Sean Mannion that leads the nation in passing yards (3,263) by nearly 400 yards and a receiver in Brandin Cooks that ranks first in receiving yards (1,256) with a 155-yard cushion on his closest competitor.
“[Mannion] is a good player, but Brandin Cooks makes it go,” Orgeron said. “The guy is tremendous. They have a good scheme.”
It’s unclear who will be the main man on USC’s defense tasked with blanketing Cooks. Junior cornerback/safety Josh Shaw is sure to get a crack as the leader of the Trojans’ secondary, but Orgeron is keeping his hand close.
“Everyone’s gonna have their chance,” Orgeron said. “They put [Cooks] all over the field. He’s to the [wide side of the] field, he’s to the [side of the] boundary, they run fly sweeps with him. … So everybody’s gonna have a shot.”
Even though the Beavers exceeded expectations after starting off their season with a shocking 49-46 home loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS school, there is still reason to doubt that Oregon State has simply benefitted from a soft schedule to this point.
After rebounding from the head-scratching opener by reeling off six straight wins, the Beavers fell at home to No. 6 Stanford 20-12 last week as Mannion was sacked eight times. The junior threw for 271 yards while completing 41 of 57 passes for a subpar raw QB rating of 33.3, and Cooks was somewhat kept in check with 80 reception yards and the lone passing touchdown for the Beavers.
But with a large amount of USC’s players still banged up, there’s no telling if the Trojans could keep the game close if the Beavers do find success on offense.
Though the statuses of junior receiver Marqise Lee and redshirt junior tight end Xavier Grimble were upgraded to “probable” by Orgeron on Thursday, USC will likely be without redshirt senior tackle Kevin Graf and freshman safety Su’a Cravens, who were both injured in last week’s game against Utah.
“It would be a big help to have Grimble out there on Saturday,” Orgeron said. “It is what is, and we are going to have to accept the challenge.”
Kickoff is at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
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