Trojans Ready For Another Big Road Test

No. 1 USC heads off to Lincoln for showdown with No. 14 Cornhuskers

College Football Preview: Week 3

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Sept. 14, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
E-mail here!

Give Pete Carroll and USC credit.


The big boys of college football the past five years have never been shy about playing some tough non-conference road games.


In 2003, USC traveled to Auburn in the season-opener where they handed the Tigers the worst Week 1 loss in their history. In 2004, there was that matchup with Virginia Tech in front of 91,665 fans at FedEx Field that USC won by 11. Last season, the Trojans slammed Arkansas, the SEC West champs, by 36 in Fayetteville. And, of course, there are all those games with Notre Dame, the most infamous one coming in 2005 that culminated with the "Bush Push."




If anything, those tough games have only served as a jump-off point for the Trojans during their current run to the top of the college football world. Their springboard to success has been predicated on challenges, rather than cakewalks.


"It's served us well in the past to take on big matchups and get there and figure out a way to get a game won, get the heck out," Carroll said earlier this week. "Then we've been able to talk about it, use it. We always want to accomplish stuff and then build from there, particularly with the young kids, to prove to them that they're capable and worthy of handling these environments."


And Carroll is hoping 2007 is no different.


The top-ranked Trojans hit the road for the first time this season as they venture to Lincoln, Neb. where they'll meet No. 14 Nebraska Saturday along with 85,000-plus clad in red in Memorial Stadium and a new Cornhuskers quarterback, albeit one very familiar to USC.


The game is actually being billed as one of the biggest in Nebraska history -- an eyebrow-raising proclamation considering the Cornhuskers' rich tradition -- so the hype and hoopla heading into this one is considerable, but far from anything new for Carroll.


"You know, we've heard that before," Carroll said. "You know, I know they have such a good team and they've come along, they've grown with coach [Bill] Callahan's teams in the last couple years. Had a big year last year. You know, this is a great opportunity for them. You don't often get a chance to play a team that's ranked so high. When you do, you want to make everything of it."


The Trojans will be the first No. 1-ranked team to visit Lincoln in 29 years, presenting Callahan with a golden opportunity to earn his first signature win in his four years at Nebraska. Callahan, for the most part, has won the games he was supposed to but has yet to knock off a team like Texas, Oklahoma, Auburn or USC last year -- a team he isn't supposed to beat.


"We're excited to play, just like we are every week," Callahan said. "I think it's great for college football that we have the No. 1 team in the nation coming to play in Lincoln, Neb. I know our players are excited about the challenge."


Unlike Nebraska, USC has only played once this season, a relatively lackluster win over Idaho where the Trojans were anything but impressive. Week 2 they were off and now the Trojans have had two weeks to prepare for what figures to be their toughest test of September.


And as always is the case, the Trojans are preparing for Nebraska's best shot. Every week they take the field as the No. 1 team in the nation, the Trojans have bulls-eyes on their backs as wide as a Nebraska cornfield.


"You know, we are accustomed over the years to playing teams that are prepared to give us the best shot they could possibly give us and their fans are always, you know, ready to answer the call," Carroll said. "That's what we have come to expect and that's normal for us to be in that situation. It doesn't make it easy, but it is what we have come to grow and learn to expect."


As for what Carroll expects from the Cornhuskers themselves, he has no idea -- or at least that what he wants everyone to think. After Nebraska's Week 1 domination over Nevada in which the Cornhuskers ran the ball so effectively it seemed like the Wolf Pack were forbidden from tackling, Week 2 was a much different story.


Stepping up in competition and visiting an ACC school for the first time in 37 years, Nebraska eked out a three-point victory over Wake Forest thanks to its defense, who made the big stop at the end of the game. Sam Keller, Nebraska's new quarterback by way of Arizona State, aired it out against the Demon Deacons 41 times -- a far cry from Week 1 where he threw it just 25 times and let Marlon Lucky and the rest of the Cornhuskers backs carry the ball 44 times.


"We don't really know what to expect. They ran the ball 70 times in the opener," Carroll said in exaggeration. "They came back and balanced it out pretty good in the second game. We've seen them in their championship games, in bowl games, great traditional matchups that they have. We've seen how they've varied their attack. Bill has brought an extremely well-equipped offense. They can do anything."


Ultimate success will depend on Keller. The vaunted USC defense, led by the best group of linebackers in the country and a not too shabby front four, isn't going to let the Cornhuskers run all over them. Keller is going to have to make plays with his arm, an arm USC knows firsthand is turnover prone.  


Keller, you may remember, was the starting quarterback for the Sun Devils in 2005 when he threw the ball 45 times for 347 yards against the Trojans, but watched his team ultimately come up 10 points short thanks to the five interceptions he threw -- four of which came in the second half.


But now at Nebraska, he's in charge of a much different offense. Under Dirk Koetter at ASU, Keller was in charge of a more vertical style passing attack and he put up some impressive numbers. Now he's in charge of running Callahan's West Coast offense.


"This is a different style," Carroll said. "This is a style that we're familiar with, that we've seen -- very NFL-oriented style of attack, run and pass. The drop back game, the play actions, all of that, we recognize where they come from and all."


So Carroll sounds like he knows what to expect Saturday. He's won 66 games in Los Angeles, and with all his years in the NFL, he knows how to stop a pro-style offense.


Featuring maybe his most talented team ever, Carroll takes his Trojans into yet another hostile environment on the road. With two weeks of preparation under their belt, the Trojans are fully rested and ready for whatever Nebraska's going to throw at them -- despite what Carroll might want some to believe.


You know he's prepared for yet another high-profile, non-conference win on the road. He does it better than anyone these days.