USC's Carroll impressed by Washington State

Updated: October 28, 2003, 8:33 PM ET

LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans coach Pete Carroll hoped that when Jason Gesser finished his career at Washington State, the Cougars would falter.

It hasn't happened.

"I heard from some of their coaches on the road in spring recruiting that they were encouraged that they would have a terrific team coming back. I was kind of hoping for the other way around," Carroll said Tuesday. "They lost a great quarterback last year and I hoped Jason Gesser was the answer to their success.

"That was not the case. And they were quite accurate about their outlook."

The Trojans shared the conference title with Washington State last year, but the Cougars got the Rose Bowl berth because of their 30-27 overtime win over USC.

Both teams again are having good years.

The Trojans (7-1, 3-1 Pac-10) are ranked third nationally and the Cougars (7-1, 4-0) sixth as they prepare for Saturday's game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"They're a real good-looking football team," Carroll said. "They easily could be undefeated. I think they would have liked to have played that Notre Dame game (a Cougars' 29-26 overtime loss) a little later in the season.

"They've got a fine defense. Their offense is really well-designed. The quarterback (Matt Kegel) knows the system and is executing it well. And they've got really good special teams."

The Trojans aren't too shabby themselves.

With a new star emerging almost weekly, they're off to their best start since the 1988 team won its first eight games. They also have ranked in the national top 10 for the past 14 games, their longest run there since they did it 34 consecutive games in 1978-80.

Quarterback Matt Leinart has been most impressive as a replacement for 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, and the Trojans have developed an impressive tailback-by-committee.

Reggie Bush, one of three freshman tailbacks, caught two of Leinart's four touchdown passes and also rushed for 81 yards in USC's 43-23 win at Washington last weekend.

Bush finished with five catches for 132 yards -- the most receiving yards ever by a Trojans tailback -- and 57 yards on two kickoff returns to give him 270 all-purpose yards.

Another freshman, LenDale White, headed the rushing attack in earlier games, and sophomore Hershel Dennis has been steady as the starter. A third freshman, Chauncey Washington, also is in the mix.

Bush is a slash-and-dash runner; White and Washington run with power, and Dennis is sort of a combination of the two skills.

Carroll believes the rotation is working better than sticking with one tailback.

"We have such an interesting mix. We lose a little by not featuring one guy, but we can keep the guys fresh and fast and competitive," the coach said. "I like the way it's going and we'll keep expanding."

The Trojans may be without a couple of their top players this weekend. Wide receiver Mike Williams has a sprained ankle, and linebacker Matt Grootegoed missed the Washington game with a sprained ankle.

"We're holding our breath," Carroll said.

Cornerback Ronald Nunn, who broke a bone in his eye socket in the Washington game, still may be able to play against the Cougars.

"That's a nice bonus for us, if it happens," Carroll said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index