USC looks to exorcise Corvallis demons

In the days leading up to USC’s Friday night matchup against Oregon State, one thing that will be likely emphasized in nearly every preview written about the game will be how the Trojans have not won a road game against the Beavers since 2004. Corvallis, Ore. has not been kind to USC for the better part of the past decade, with Oregon State beating USC three times — twice when the Trojans were ranked in the top three.

This week’s matchup, though, has one key difference from the previous three — Oregon State is the better team.

In 2006, USC was ranked No. 3 and looking to return to the BCS National Championship game after losing to Texas the year before. Led by first-year starting quarterback John David Booty’s 406-yard passing day, the Trojans outgained the Beavers by more than 140 yards but were done in by four turnovers compared to none for Oregon State. Despite the many blunders, USC had a chance to tie the game with seven seconds left, but failed on a two-point conversion attempt and lost 33-31.

Two years later, Mark Sanchez had the Trojans ranked No. 1 and looking poised to reclaim their throne as national champions, but for all the hype surrounding Sanchez and the USC offense, the Beavers had their own answer — running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers had 186 rushing yards on an eye-popping 37 carries and gashed the USC defense for tough yardage. Oregon State again won the turnover battle, with USC committing two turnovers compared to the Beavers’ zero.

Then came the 2010 game. By this time, USC’s extended run as one of the nation’s premier programs had reached its end, though the Trojans were ranked No. 20 and had a respectable 7-3 record in former head coach Lane Kiffin’s first season. Oregon State entered the game 4-5 and had little cause for confidence, other than the fact that the game was at home, in beating USC.

Once the game was underway, though, it was clear that there was something in the air in Corvallis. Just as they had in their previous two trips, the Trojans looked out of sorts amid the crowd’s cheers and the cold, crisp air. An Oregon State touchdown on a 65-yard interception return sparked the Reser Stadium crowd, and after quarterback Matt Barkley was knocked out of the game just before halftime, the USC offense was essentially nonexistent. When all was said and done, the Beavers had crushed the Trojans 37-6.

I was at the 2010 game and can attest to this — it was impossible to feel comfortable in that stadium. Oregon State’s campus is surrounded by, well, not much. Open farmland is about all there is to see on the drive in, a far cry from the overwhelming metropolis of Downtown Los Angeles. Corvallis, though, can be overwhelming in its own way. The fans love their team, and with not much else to do on a Saturday night, they come out in full force, especially with a high-profile team like USC coming into town. And though Reser Stadium holds 45,674 fans, less than half of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the layout of the stands makes it sound as though there are many more in attendance.

This year’s game might be different than the most recent showdowns. USC is currently a 5.5-point underdog, whereas the Trojans were favored in each of the previous three meetings. That should remove the possibility that USC overlooks this Friday’s game, something the team appeared to have done judging by its play in the past three games against Oregon State.

In the two most recent Oregon State victories, most of the damage against USC was done on the ground, with the Beavers tallying more rushing than passing yards each game. Current Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing yards this season, meaning we will likely see plenty of passes thrown at a shoddy USC secondary.

But what should give USC hope in what appears to be a hopeless situation heading into Corvallis is the lack of expectations. Top-ranked Trojan teams of the past couldn’t win at Oregon State, so how can this year’s team, injury woes and all, be expected to? Merely keeping the game close would be a vast improvement from 2010’s matchup.

Oregon State has thrived off of beating USC in recent years because USC meant more then on a national scale than it does now. The 2006 team had won 38 regular-season games heading into its tilt with Oregon State, the 2008 team was the top-ranked team in the nation and even the 2010 team was less than two years removed from a Rose Bowl victory.

This is not the case for this year’s team. USC has fallen off the map on a national scale — beating the Trojans does not get people nearly as excited as it once did. But this might play in USC’s favor on Friday night. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron is a masterful motivator, and you can be sure that he will play up this angle to his players, at least privately.

Expectations are nearly nonexistent for this week — the team has no depth, no health and virtually no shot at beating Oregon State for the first time since 2004. But strange things tend to happen when you least expect them — and as Reser Stadium has proven whenever USC comes to play, things tend to deviate from the plan. At least this year, for the Trojans, that could be an ideal scenario.


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