No. 3 Trojans survive scare

Published October 2, 2006

PULLMAN, Wash. - Coach Pete Carroll has made a thorough study of the power of positive thinking, and it came in handy Saturday night.

He chose to look at his team's stunningly difficult 28-22 victory at Washington State - and the vulnerability of his seemingly invulnerable program - along the lines of the famous Friedrich Nietzsche observation: That which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger.

The Cougars couldn't kill the Trojans' reign over the Pac-10 conference - 25 consecutive league victories and counting - but they did poke at a few soft spots.

Washington State showed USC's young secondary has a lot of growing up to do. Against two physical and experienced receivers, USC's defensive backs looked overaggressive and unaware of the ball. They had three pass-interference calls and a costly facemask penalty.

Washington State proved it's possible to get the ball from the Trojans more than they get it from you: For the first time this year, No. 3 USC turned the ball over more than an opponent, 2-1.

Those two breakdowns alone might have made for a sad flight home, except for the exceptional efforts of receiver Steve Smith and the man who wisely threw him the ball all night, John David Booty.

"It's good for us. We're growing," Carroll said. "This is a program that needs experiences to grow from. We're challenged every week. The conference is stout, and we're fighting our tails off to get our game."

Carroll, his team and legions of USC fans had to hold their breath as the final seconds ticked slowly away. Washington State's last-ditch drive with a minute left ended with an Alex Brink heave that freshman safety Taylor Mays intercepted near the goal line.

OHIO STATE: Overconfidence and complacency might be Ohio State's toughest opponents for the next month and a half.

Given what the top-ranked Buckeyes' schedule looks like over the next six weeks, it's tough to envision them slipping before their annual battle with Michigan in the season finale.

The latest September statement by Troy Smith and the Buckeyes came Saturday in a 38-17 win over Iowa in Iowa City that extended the nation's longest winning streak to 12 games.

Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) faced three ranked teams in September - Texas, Penn State and the Hawkeyes - and beat them all by at least 17 points.

"How we handle being successful with that 5-0 start is the question," coach Jim Tressel said. "We're very capable."

The Buckeyes received a season-high 62 first-place votes in the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday. With none of the teams in the top 10 losing last week, the first 10 spots in the poll were unchanged. No. 2 was Auburn followed by Southern California, West Virginia, Florida and Michigan at No. 6.

Auburn received one first-place, down one from last week, and West Virginia got two-first place votes. USC, which had two first-place votes in last week's Top 25, had none in the latest poll.

Auburn, which escaped with a 24-17 win at South Carolina last Thursday, increased its lead on USC by six points to 28.

AUBURN: Center Joe Cope is expected to miss at least four weeks with a sprained right knee sustained against South Carolina. A 16-game starter, he was the second veteran offensive player injured in the past three games. Tight end Cole Bennett is expected to miss most of the season with a broken right ankle.

MICHIGAN: When it was over, the Wolverines acted like they had done it before.

In fact, before losing the Little Brown Jug last year, the Wolverines had left the Michigan-Minnesota game with the trophy for nearly two straight decades.

So the Wolverines' calm, deliberate walk to reclaim it after Saturday's win - inspired by coach Lloyd Carr's Thursday suggestion - sent its own message.

"You don't know how much you miss something until it's gone," said Michigan tailback Mike Hart, who rushed for a game-high 195 yards on 31 carries. "It hurt last year when they took it because Michigan doesn't lose the Jug. We lost that jug last year. Guys who were on the team last year knew it was our responsibility to come back here and get it."

TEXAS: Seventh-ranked Texas probably can't afford a limited playbook as it leaves Austin in the month of October to face Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas Tech.

If completion percentage over the last three games is any indication, green-but-growing quarterback Colt McCoy appears ready to handle what he couldn't against Ohio State in Week 2: a down-the-field passing game.

Against Rice, Iowa State and Sam Houston State, McCoy and backup Jevan Snead have completed 84 percent of their passes (49 of 58) for 709 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception.

GEORGIA: Who needs a fancy passing game, anyway? After his freshman quarterbacks - Matthew Stafford and Joe Cox - struggled to get anything going in the first half while trying to put the ball in the air, Georgia coach Mark Richt decided to pound out a win Saturday with the running game.

Both quarterbacks may be in trouble this week. Senior Joe Tereshinski will return to practice today and could be ready against the Volunteers.

Late Saturday

WASHINGTON 21, ARIZONA 10: Isaiah Stanback threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns in Tucson, Ariz., to lead Washington (4-1, 2-0) to its third straight victory. The Huskies scored three times in the final 6:07 of the first half to take a 21-3 lead and held Arizona (2-3, 0-2) to minus-7 yards rushing.

UCLA 31, STANFORD 0: Freshman Chane Moline scored twice on short runs in the second half and UCLA (3-1, 1-1 Pac-10) pulled away against Stanford (0-5, 0-3) in Pasadena, Calif.