Notre Dame to give USC Pac-10 reprieve

By Arlie Rahn

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The big question for Southern Cal this season has been if it can be placed alongside teams such as Florida State, Nebraska and Ohio State as one of the nation's elite. One of the Trojans' skeptics was Washington State coach Mike Price. But after falling to the Trojans 26-14 Saturday, Price is now ready to put the Trojans among the best in the nation.

"We've faced both USC and Nebraska, and it's tough to compare these two teams because they are so different," Price said. "Going into the game I probably would have said that Nebraska was a better team, but I was so impressed with USC's defense after the game, their defensive line and their stature and (physicality). They're much more athletic and physical than Nebraska, and their offense is more complex than Nebraska, particularly in the passing game."

This week the Trojans will have the chance to prove their ability to the rest of the nation when they face No. 17 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. But USC will have to find a way to stop a 12-game Irish winning streak against the Trojans.

"We were not real excited about our offensive performance but (WSU) has a good defense and I give them credit for coming back," said USC quarterback Brad Otten, who passed for 130 yards and a touchdown. "We haven't played up to our potential but we can finally start thinking about South Bend. Everybody is really excited about playing Notre Dame and stopping the streak."

One reason the Trojan offense slowed down was the Cougars' performance against receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who, for the second straight game, was held to under 100 yards receiving and no touchdowns.

"I expect to be double- and triple-covered," Johnson said. "That's why we were able to throw the ball to Larry (Parker) and the tight ends."

While their offense slowed down, the Trojans' defense continued their dominance and appears to be the main strength of this year's team.

"Our defense is not based on trickery or gimmicks," said USC defensive end Darrell Russell. "It's very basic, we take whoever is in front of us."

But for USC, Saturday cannot come soon enough.

"We've been waiting for this game and I can't wait to play them," Johnson said. "I'm ready to suit up right now."

Arizona's opponent this weekend, No. 20 Washington, has given Wildcat fans something else to worry about. While the Huskies have been fairly proficient with the run this season, they showed another dimension of their offense in their 38-28 win over Stanford they now can beat a team through the air. Washington quarterback Damon Huard dominated the Cardinal defense, connecting on 20-of-30 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown.

"Damon came in this one prepared to play," Washington coach Jim Lambright said. "His touch on the ball was outstanding today and gave our receivers a chance to come down with the ball. I think this is his best game (of his career)."

Husky running back Rashaan Shehee showed that his 190-yard performance against Notre Dame two weeks ago was not a fluke, rushing for 196 yards and three touchdowns.

"We did a great job in both running and passing the ball," Lambright said. "This is one of those games where you go back and do more complementing than criticizing. This (game) was the most positive experience we've had all year."

Oregon tailback Ricky Whittle has slowly risen to the nation's elite, ranking third in the country with 217.5 all-purpose yards a game. Against Cal last week, Whittle rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns, caught six passes for 72 yards and returned three kickoffs for 79 yards. Overall, he had 312 all-purpose yards.

"When you've got a guy like that, you just keep going to the well," Oregon quarterback Tony Graziani said. "He just doesn't stop. He's like the Energizer bunny, he keeps going."

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