The Washington State Cougars (0-1) travel to Los Angeles to play the #22 ranked University of Southern California (USC) Trojans (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time September 7th in the L. A. Memorial Coliseum. The contest is the Pac-12 Conference opener along with being the 90th year USC has played in the historic Coliseum.
Both schools have one thing in common: they’re trying to improve after disappointing seasons last year. This is the Cougars' second road game in-a-row to start the year after losing a closely fought opener at Auburn 31-24. The Trojans were also on the road last week playing out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After a slow start by the offense, the men of Troy were able to pull away for a 30-13 victory over Hawaii. Look for the two schools to be potential surprise teams in the Pac-12 (see related articles below).
Air Raid vs 5-2
Washington State’s loss was a tough one as they statistically outplayed the Auburn Tigers. With head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, quarterback Conner Halliday threw the ball constantly, ending up 36 of 65 for 344 yards and a touchdown. The problem was the three interceptions he threw and along with untimely incompletions, thwarted any chance the Cougs had of winning.
USC’s defense played superbly in new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s hybrid 5-2 scheme. That worked well for the Trojans because their quarterback situation did not work itself out. Cody Kessler started and looked tight in his first real action as a starting QB. Max Wittek was inserted early in the third quarter and was also unimpressive. Still, with the help of the USC defense, the offense was able to produce enough points for a comfortable fourth quarter 30-5 lead.
That is a luxury that Washington State doesn’t have. Their defense did not look particularly good, especially against the run as Auburn shredded them for nearly 300 yards on the ground. The Trojans running game looked good at times against Hawaii and if Silas Redd is healthy enough to start, the Cougar defense could be in trouble again. Kessler will again get the start for the men of Troy but once more, expect Wittek to get a decent amount of playing time.
On the flipside, the passing attack for the Washington State offense could be dangerous this year. Halliday will be key for the Cougars as their running game is only adequate at best. However, he should see a lot of pressure from USC, as did Hawaii’s quarterback Taylor Graham who had an incessant stream of Trojan attackers coming at him, creating hurried throws and turnovers. Nevertheless, the USC secondary is still their weakness and surely Halliday will be taking shots downfield often.
Look for improvement
The second game of the season is usually when teams improve the most. The Cougs’ are already an improved squad and will be a treacherous team to play no matter where they are. The Trojans are on the precipice as either a team ready to breakout or breakup – I side with the former. Speaking of breakout, watch for a breakout game at quarterback. USC doesn’t lose very often to the Cougars and this gridiron clash won’t be any different. Final score: USC 31 – Washington State 14.
After this game, the Cougars finally play at home with an FCS team, Southern Utah, visiting Pullman the following Saturday (September 14). The Trojans stay in the Coliseum on that same Saturday, entertaining the Boston College Eagles.
Sources: Washington State University, University of Southern California