CSU head coach Sonny Lubick says Southern California is a good football team.
He isn’t joking.
After coming off a heartbreaking loss to Colorado this past weekend, the CSU football team will now be taking on No. 1 ranked and defending co-national champion Southern California this weekend in Los Angeles.
“It will definitely be a challenge,” Lubick said. “We’ll go down and play hard and see what we’re made of.”
The game will mark the first time CSU has faced the defending national champions in the history of its football program. The spread for the game is a little lopsided, giving the Trojans a winning margin of 24 points.
USC returns 10 players who have made national “watch lists” for various postseason awards. The Trojans are led by quarterback Matt Leinart, who finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting last year, and is a preseason favorite to win the trophy in 2004.
USC head coach Pete Carroll, named Coach of the Year by multiple media outlets for leading the Trojans to a share of the national title last year, watched CSU in the season opener.
“That was a fantastic display of character,” Carroll said. “They (CSU) took the game into control and played like winners.”
Carroll said that he knew CSU was a good football team, and that they would be competitive. He noted that quarterback Justin Holland made an impressive first impression, throwing for 403 yards in the loss at CU.
“We were kind of hoping that the quarterback position would take a step backwards (after Bradlee Van Pelt was drafted),” Carroll said. “But then Holland comes out and just tears it up. He had a great game.”
Holland said he was excited about playing the top ranked team in the nation.
“You don’t get many chances to play No. 1,” Holland said. “It’s a big game, something that doesn’t happen to many guys.”
USC will be well rested, not having played a game this past weekend. They opened their season on Aug. 28 with a 24-13 win against Virginia Tech. Lubick said the week off would allow USC to change some things up and be ready for the Rams. Carroll said his team was preparing like any other week.
“I like having (the bye week) this early in the season,” Carroll said. “It gives the young guys a chance to make a big jump.”
USC also includes two talented running backs. Both Lindell White and Reggie Bush are on the Doak Walker Award watch list, which is awarded to the top running back in the nation at the end of the year. CSU’s defense is coming off a week in which CU running back Bobby Purify ran for 193 yards, averaging over seven yards per rush.
“We’ve got to work on it,” Lubick said of the run defense. “The redshirt freshmen are poised to help make some big plays.”
Although, their name doesn’t appear on the top-25 list, Carroll expects a challenge from the Rams.
“They have a loaded football team,” Carroll said. “We practice expecting that everybody can play, we have the approach that we respect everybody.”
Injuries bring Johnson into RB picture
CSU running back Jimmy Green is expected to be out again this weekend when CSU travels to USC, opening the door to possibly play a true freshman.
Green, who suited up for the CU game but didn’t play, is not expected to be completely healthy by this weekend. He has been sidelined with an ankle sprain for the past three weeks.
“He’s questionable,” said offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt. “Right now he’s about 80 percent. We’ll only play Jimmy if he’s 100 percent.”
Lubick said that true freshman running back Gartrell Johnson may get see his first action. Johnson, from Florida, has been impressive in practices.
“We’re not saving him,” Lubick said. “We’d like to get him going and ready to play.”
Hammerschmidt has been equally impressed with Johnson in practice.
“He’s ready to go,” Hammerschmidt said. “It’ll be fun to watch.”
Johnson is excited about having the opportunity to play this weekend.
“I feel I bring something different to the team,” Johnson said. “All three running backs are great, and we all bring something a little different to the team.”
CSU may also be without three defensive players, including two starters. Starting safety Adam Lancisero injured his hamstring during the CU game, but is expected to play this weekend at USC. He will compete with Miles Kochevar for the start at USC. Kochevar, who had the only CSU interception this past weekend, played well against CU, Lubick said.
“Miles made a lot of plays,” Lubick said. “It turned out to be a good game for him.”
Starting defensive tackle Jonathan Simon has been limited this week in practice due to back spasms. Simon injured his ankle last week, and is questionable to play against USC.
Linebacker Chris Davis was also hurt this past weekend, injuring his MCL. He was scheduled to undergo a MRI this week and is not expected to play this weekend. Lubick said they would wait and see if he needed surgery before making any long-term decisions.
Good news from the training room:
Linebacker Landon Jones, who has sat out almost all of fall practice with a torn hamstring, is running on the practice fields with the team. He is still expected to miss at least one more week, but may be ready to play the home opener against Minnesota on Sept. 18.