(Sports Network) - The 20th-ranked USC Trojans aim for their third straight victory as they travel to Corvallis this weekend for a showdown with the Oregon State Beavers. Lane Kiffin's Trojans may not have any postseason plans, but they are playing like a team that does, sporting a 7-3 overall record. USC got a big win last weekend, with a 24-21 decision at Arizona to move to 7-3 overall and 4-3 in Pac-10 play.
Mike Riley's Beavers have suffered some key injuries and have been plagued with inconsistent play this year and the result is a subpart 4-5 record. The team is 3-3 in conference play, but enters this contest having lost two straight games, including a humbling 31-14 setback at home against Washington State. Riley sees that USC is peaking down the stretch.
"Those of you who have followed USC know you're looking at a team that has a great group of athletes. I think they have played their best football here recently. They've been in a ton of close games and it's impressive to watch." USC has dominated the all-time series with OSU, sporting a 59-10-4 record, but Oregon State has won two straight and three of the last four meetings in Corvallis.
The Trojans have been a strong offensive team this year, averaging 35.2 ppg, on a hefty 462.3 yards of total offense. It has been great balance which has been this team's greatest asset, averaging 200.0 yards per game rushing and 262.3 passing.
Quarterback Matt Barkley has had a strong season, completing 63.6 percent of his passes, for 2,518 yards, with 25 TDs and nine INTs. He has a potent one- two punch on the outside in the form of WRs Robert Woods (50 receptions, 633 yards, six TDs) and Ronald Johnson (48 receptions, 571 yards, eight TDs). The backfield has talented depth as well, headlined by tailbacks Marc Tyler (786 yards, nine TDs, 5.8 ypc) and Allen Bradford (571 yards, four TDs, 7.4 ypc).
Tyler had 160 yards rushing in the win over Arizona and Kiffin credits his offensive line for the success. "Our offensive line has taken a lot of criticism, especially from me, but we ran behind them for 200 yards and they didn't give up a sack,"
It is on the defensive side of the football that USC has struggled this year. The unit has been uncharacteristically generous, giving up 27.7 ppg on well over 400 yards (421.9 ypg). Still, this squad has made plays at times, with 22 sacks and 19 takeaways. Sophomore safety T.J. McDonald leads the team in tackles (78) and is tied for the team lead in INTs (three). Sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard is second in stops (61). Junior tackle Jurrell Casey has been the team's top player up front, with 51 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks.
The Beavers are averaging a solid 26.3 ppg and have done it despite netting a modest 331.8 yards of total offense. Injuries have certainly been a problem, especially the loss of standout WR James Rodgers. Quarterback Ryan Katz has still done a solid job under center despite his arsenal being down a big gun. Katz is completing 60.4 percent of his passes on the year, for 1,840 yards and 14 TDs. Markus Wheaton has stepped up and taken over the role of primary target with 35 receptions, for 458 yards and three TDs. It has also helped to have a versatile tailback that can both run the ball and catch it out of the backfield. Very few do it as well as Jacquizz Rodgers, who has amassed 893 yards and 13 TDs on the ground, while hauling in 28 balls, for 193 yards and two more scores through the air.
The OSU defense has struggled against both the run and the pass, allowing 169.2 yards per game on the ground and another 239.6 through the air. The team has gotten after opposing QBs though, with 25 sacks on the season.
Leading this unit is linebacker Dwight Roberson, with 69 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, one INT and one fumble recovery. Defensive end Gabe Miller (40 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks) and tackle Stephen Paea (28 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks) have been strong up front, while safety Suaesi Tuimaunei (61 tackles, one INT) has performed well in the secondary.
For more USC news and information, be sure to read SB Nation blog Conquest Chronicles.