Southern Cal offense will meet The Firm

Updated: October 30, 2003, 8:55 PM ET

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Southern California has the Wild Bunch II, but Washington State's defensive line also has a nickname: The Firm.

Defensive ends D.D. Acholonu and Isaac Brown provide speed from the corners, while tackles Tai Tupai and Jeremy Williams give the Cougars a push up the middle.

The seniors are a big part of the reason the No. 6 Cougars lead the Pacific-10 Conference in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, turnover margin and sacks.

Asked which defensive team has been most satisfying this season, WSU coach Bill Doba quickly replied: "The front four."

The No. 3 Trojans' (7-1, 3-1 Pac-10) defensive line is called "The Wild Bunch II" and is considered one of the best in USC history.

"We know we're going to have an `A' game. USC is coming off a great win against UW,"Brown said. "They have just been running on all cylinders. That's what we need to implement, both offensively and defensively."

When Rien Long left after his junior season to join the NFL, there were questions whether the Cougars could rebuild their run defense.

The Firm answered with the top scoring defense in the league (16.9 points per game), the best rushing defense (68.1 yards per game) and total defense (303.8 yards per game). The Cougars also have a league-high 31 sacks, followed by USC's 30, and a plus-12 turnover margin, also a conference best.

The Cougars' four-man pressure has played a key part,Brown said.

"I think a lot of teams have game-planned against us. I've been double-teamed a lot," he said. "This year, it seems like we're attacking more. Last year, Rien Long commanded a double-team, and when you double-team from the inside like that, it's hard to double-team an end."

The Trojans' offense will provide a test for The Firm, said Brown, who at 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds is the team's talker.

"You have to go out and prove your nickname,"Brown said. "No discredit to USC, they're a great defense and a great offensive line. Everybody has their nickname and I think everybody has to prove it as well."

He's recorded 22 tackles and returned two fumbles for 25 yards.

Acholonu, 6-3, 245, leads the team in sacks, with 7.5, including three last week against Oregon State. He's also recorded 32 tackles and has a fumble recovery.

Although he didn't turn out for football until his junior year at Seattle's Inglemoor High School and earned his start this season, Acholonu led the Cougars in sacks as a reserve.

"He's come a long way," Doba said. "He didn't have a lot of experience, but he's a great physical talent."

Acholonu said the Cougars' linemen don't consider defensive statistics as important as wins.

"Basically now, we're a group of seniors and stats aren't a big deal. Until we get a `W,' that's the most important thing," he said. "Sacks, I felt good because I was helping my team out."

Against the Trojans, The Firm hopes to make a name, he said.

"We don't play against those guys (the Wild Bunch). We play against the offensive line," Acholonu said. "We want to make sure their quarterback and their offensive line know our presence."

It shouldn't be hard to miss, with Williams, 6-4, 288, and Tupai, 6-5, 320, anchoring the middle.

Tupai, pronounced TOO-pie-ee, replaced departed Outland Trophy winner Long at right tackle. He worked hard during the offseason to get his weight under control, gain strength and regain the starting position he lost last season because of injuries and a weight problem, Doba said.

"When we lost Rien Long, we gained Tai Tupai," Doba said. "He's going to make some money at this game if he continues to improve."

Tupai, who started all 12 games as a sophomore, but was limited to one start last season because of foot and back problems, said the Cougars linemen set a goal of becoming one of the best defenses WSU has ever fielded.

"Whether the nation knows we are The Firm doesn't really matter," Tupai said. "We're going to go out there and play for ourselves and play for our fans."

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