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Trojans force their way into Sugar Bowl picture

Matt Leinart, LenDale White and the rest of the Trojans showed there's no doubt who is the best team in the West. Now they hope to have a chance to show they're tops in the nation as well.

Leinart threw three touchdowns, White ran for 149 yards on 12 carries and Southern Cal smothered Washington State 43-16 Saturday.

In what was billed as one of the biggest Pac-10 games in years, the Trojans used their big-play ability to break open a close game in the second half.

USC, fourth in the BCS standings, must hope the dominant win impressed the poll voters and computers that help determine the top teams in the country to play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.

It was helped when Miami lost 31-7 to Virginia Tech, leaving Oklahoma the only major undefeated team.

Leinart threw for 191 yards, Mike Williams of Tampa caught a TD and threw a spectacular pass of his own and Hershel Dennis scored on a 24-yard run as USC scored at least 40 points for a school-record fourth straight game.

The Trojans won their 13th straight home game and moved into a tie for first in the conference with the Cougars and UCLA.

USC (8-1) is off to its best start since opening 10-0 in 1988. The only blemish came Sept. 27 in a 34-31 triple-overtime loss at California.

The Trojans had too many offensive options for the Pac-10's top defense to handle. Keary Colbert had nine catches for 80 yards and a touchdown and Williams had four catches for 43 yards despite a sprained ankle. Even freshman Steve Smith got into the act with a 55-yard touchdown reception.

Williams had the most memorable play of the game. He took a lateral from Leinart in the left flat and tried to pass, but nobody was open. Williams then scrambled across the field, sidestepped a defender and hit an open Gregg Guenther for a 23-yard gain. One play later, Leinart hit Williams on a 13-yard slant to make it 29-10.

Matt Kegel and the Cougars didn't go away easily. They mounted a 17-play drive with two fourth-down conversions, including a 13-yard run on a fake punt by Erik Coleman, and scored on Jermaine Green's 1-yard plunge.

Leinart then threw a 13-yard TD to Colbert on the next drive, and White put the game away with his running.

Smith started the big second half by taking a slant pass, breaking Jason David's arm tackle and sprinting down the sideline for the score that made it 22-10.

Matt Kegel drove Washington State to the 18 on the next drive before fumbling a snap that Jason Leach recovered at the 19.

A 49-yard run by White helped set up Williams' touchdown reception, and the Trojans defense was too tough for the Cougars.

The Cougars finished with minus-25 yards rushing. They would have had 29 except for two botched punt snaps in the first half.

Kegel was under constant pressure from USC's defensive line and left briefly after spraining his right knee in the second quarter.

Washington State also committed 15 penalties for 115 yards.

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