If there's any message that can be imparted to Oregon State in its preparation for top-ranked Southern California, it's that no team is invincible.
CORVALLIS — If there's any message that can be imparted to Oregon State in its preparation for top-ranked Southern California, it's that no team is invincible.
It worked for the Beavers the last time the Trojans visited Corvallis, in 2006. Oregon State upset then-No. 3 USC, ending the Trojans' 38-game regular-season winning streak.
Before that game, receiver Sammie Stroughter — inspired by the story of David and Goliath — passed out small stones to his teammates.
"The lesson can be learned — no matter what people think, or what the pick is, or what the perception is — it's all about playing the game. It's been proven time and again across the country: USC hasn't fallen into the trap, but it isn't about the best team always winning," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "We have seen that numerous times through the first three weeks of the season. It is about the team that plays best Thursday night, and that is where our opportunity lies."
There's inspiration elsewhere for the Beavers, too. Last season the Oregon State upset then-No. 2 California 31-28 on the road. And then there's the all-time Pac-10 shocker from last season, when Stanford beat USC at home, 24-23.
Still, Oregon State (1-2) has quite task when USC (2-0) visits Reser Stadium tonight.
The season didn't start well for the Beavers. They lost twice, at Stanford and Penn State, before returning home for a victory over Hawaii.
Oregon State does have weapons on a steadily developing offense. Quarterback Lyle Moevao leads the Beavers, who top the Pac-10 in passing offense averaging 307.3 yards a game.
Diminutive running back Jacquizz Rodgers had 110 yards rushing against Hawaii, and is the leading freshman rusher nationwide with an average of 87.7 yards per game. Stroughter, who caught eight passes for 127 against USC in 2006, is back after missing most of last season with a kidney injury.
USC has shown little vulnerability, rolling to decisive victories at Virginia (52-7) and then at home against then-No. 5 Ohio State (35-3).
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who earned Pac-10 player of the week honors after both games, has thrown seven touchdowns. The offensive strengths continue at tailback, with Joe McKnight, C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford.
"It is pretty crazy. This is the first time I have ever had four running backs in the game plan," Oregon State defensive end Slade Norris said. "You can't scheme for every one of them, you just have to take whoever comes out there and just play football."
The Trojans are just as loaded on defense, led by Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing at linebacker and Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison at safety. USC has the second-best overall defense in the country, allowing just 197 yards a game. They lead the country in scoring defense after giving up just 10 points this season.
USC, however, will be without cornerback Shareece Wright, who will miss several games due to a hairline vertebra fracture suffered in the Ohio State game.
Coach Pete Carroll had said Wright was being disciplined after being charged with felony resisting a police officer earlier this month, but would have played against Oregon State had he been cleared medically. Wright will be replaced by Josh Pinkard, a fifth-year senior who missed most of the 2006 season and all of last year because of knee injuries.
Oregon State hasn't played a No. 1 since a 28-20 loss to USC on Nov. 6, 2004, memorable because the game was played in thick fog. The Beavers have only once knocked off a top-ranked team — back in 1967 when the so-called "Giant Killers" beat the O.J. Simpson-led Trojans 3-0.
USC has lost two of its last three games in Corvallis, but overall the Trojans have a 58-9-4 advantage in the series dating back to 1914.
While it remains to be seen whether Stroughter passes out stones again to his teammates, Riley's guidance before game time will be basic.
"The first message and the last one will be the same," he said. "Go compete."