No. 3 Trojans vs. No. 6 Cougars in big game

Updated: October 31, 2003, 9:31 PM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Southern Cal's Matt Leinart sees his team's game against Washington State in simple terms.

"You've got us and them and UCLA at the top of the Rose Bowl race," the Trojans' quarterback said. "We prepare like we do for any other game, but it's a game of high magnitude for us."

High magnitude, indeed.

"This is a great matchup, with all kinds of implications for the conference," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

And not just the Pac-10. The BCS rankings and any national championship hopes also will be in play when the No. 3 Trojans (7-1, 3-1 Pac-10) meet the No. 6 Cougars (7-1, 4-0) Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Bill Doba, in his first year as Washington State's head coach after 14 years as an assistant to Mike Price, knows the underdog Cougars face a severe test.

"They're a solid football team," Doba said, "from top to bottom."

USC holds a 50-8-4 edge in the series, but WSU has won two in a row and three of the last five.

This game has an array of interesting matchups, including the Trojans' high-octane offense against the Cougars' stifling defense.

USC has averaged 444 yards and 39.9 points, both Pac-10 highs. Washington State has held opponents to an average of 303.8 yards and 16.9 points, both conference lows.

The Trojans' emerging rushing game has averaged a conference-best 160 yards. The Cougars have been the toughest to run against, limiting opponents to 68.1 yards a game.

"Washington State's a great team. It's obvious when we watch film, they've got a really good defense," Leinart said. "They are real fast and real experienced on the defensive side, and the offensive side, too. They're a good match for us."

Leinart and WSU's Matt Kegel each have been successful after taking over for prolific passers.

Leinart, a redshirt sophomore who replaced Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, has thrown for 2,175 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions and a 162.9 passer rating. Through eight games last year, Palmer had thrown 18 TD passes, with eight interceptions and a 140.9 rating.

Kegel, a fifth-year senior who had spent almost all his career as Jason Gesser's backup, has thrown for 2,231 yards and 16 touchdowns with nine interceptions and a 132.48 rating.

He had a rocky game last weekend, throwing five interceptions and losing two fumbles. The Cougars, however, still beat Oregon State 36-30.

Trojans still around from 2000 will remember Kegel. He started against USC as a redshirt freshman while Gesser was out with a broken leg and led the Cougars to a 33-27 win at the Coliseum.

Kegel, playing despite nagging injuries to both shoulders, will try to become the Cougars' first quarterback to beat the Trojans twice at the Coliseum.

Kegel has spread his passes around the season, with flankers Devard Darling and Chris Jordan, tight end Troy Beinemann and split end Sammy Moore each accumulating impressive numbers. The Cougars' running game features Jonathan Smith, who has run for 515 yards and five touchdowns and is a threat as a receiver.

Linebacker Will Derting leads the WSU defense with 59 tackles, including nine for losses, and six sacks.

Leinart leads a USC offense that features wide receivers Mike Williams and Keary Colbert, and -- suddenly -- freshman Reggie Bush.

Bush, one of four USC tailbacks that Carroll is using, had a breakout game in a 43-23 win at Washington last weekend, with five catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns, plus 81 yards rushing and 57 yards on kickoff returns.

"I'm amazed at their tailbacks, especially Reggie, the way he's improved," Doba said. "They can use him in so many places, at receiver and at running back."

The Trojans' Williams, who is 6-foot-5, could prove a problem since he's bigger than Washington State's defensive backs.

"You gotta play big," said 5-8 cornerback Jason David.

Doba, asked how a smaller cornerback can defend against a tall receiver, said, "Kick him in the shins? I don't know. He's got to try get up in his face and try to jam him, give him a variety of looks."

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