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October 14, 2008

Trojans try to fight off upset

Inside Heritage Hall, there are reminders of the past wherever someone looks.

Tuesday at Pete Carroll's media lunch, there was plenty of talk about how the USC football team could keep the past from repeating itself come Saturday.

USC heads to Washington State prohibitive favorites, with lines stretching above the 40-point mark.

Inside the Trojan locker room, though, players are aware of what can happen when USC plays in games when there's no conceivable way it can lose.

"Now we know we can't overlook anybody, especially a Pac-10 team," running back Stafon Johnson said. "They're so familiar with what we do. They know how to step us and how to beat us off past experiences. We know we have a target on our chest.

"The teams that no one thought would beat us have beat us. We know everyone is trying to gun for us."

It happened in 2007 against Stanford, in 2006 against UCLA and most recently against Oregon State less than a month ago.

Those losses have Washington State head coach Paul Wulff thinking his team could pull of the shocker.

"It's something that we will probably talk about a bit as we move on through the week. I think all things are possible. I'm a believer in that," Wulf said. "I think our kids have to understand that and believe it if they go out and play and have a chance to be in the ballgame.

"They have to go out and execute."

Ironically, No. 6 USC has the same plan for stopping the Cougars' upset bid.

"You can't win with turnovers - period," Johnson said. "A lot of it is based off our practices. They way we compete, it's kind of hard to say when we have a bad practice, but at the end of the day, we know how hard we practice and how hard we should practice.

"Those weeks, we didn't practice as great as we normally do."

Carroll said he anticipated the possibility of a letdown at Oregon State, and he thinks this week is different.

Despite all the warnings and extra emphasis, USC didn't handle the after effects of playing Ohio State in such an intensely hyped environment.

"We haven't played great all the time, but we've played really hard with the kind of intensity that gets you wins and brings out the best in you," Carroll said. "If we have any chance to have a good season, we've got to find a way each week to generate this.

"This is a different challenge. It's a challenge against a team that's struggling, and we've got to make sure and respect the game, respect this opportunity and bring that sense of awareness and urgency to the game - and then everything will be fine."

Johnson said he's not thinking about playing Washington State - the team still searching for its first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

"We're taking them like they're Texas," he said. "We've got to. If we don't, we're vulnerable."


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