(Cornerback Damante Horton had a pair of picks in WSU's 10-7 upset of USC)
The Cougars may have played better than expected in their season-opening loss at Auburn, but they were still 0-1 as most analysts had predicted they would be. As if Washington State's foray into SEC country wasn't daunting enough, the next test for the Cougars was No. 25 USC at Memorial Coliseum, a venue they had not won in since 2000 against a team they last beat in 2002.
But there were signs that Troy was ready to tumble. Los Angeles partisans were growing weary of coach Lane Kiffin's style over substance approach and the coach faced enormous pressure to produce despite heading into the season with two mediocre options at quarterback (spoiler alert: he didn't).
Injuries had necessitated that true freshman cornerback Daquawn Brown play with the No. 1 defense the week leading up to the game and he had played well enough to give them confidence he would succeed in his hometown return (he did).
And WSU's passing defense had just held Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall to 99 passing yards on the road. If the defensive backs could summon another monster performance against quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, then maybe they could keep the score close enough to stay in reach of the upset (yep).
More on WSU's game at USC is after the jump.
How it happened:
Nobody will remember this game as a hallmark of the Mike Leach style. The Cougars offense did not score a touchdown, and quarterback Connor Halliday threw two interceptions, one of which came in the red zone. But USC, which averaged 45.4 points per game in the last seven meetings between the teams, managed just two scores, and one of them counted for the Cougars.
Kessler put the Trojans on the board following a Halliday fumble with a four-yard run. But the Cougars tied it with just 27 seconds left in the half when cornerback Damante Horton intercepted Kessler's pass and ran 70 yards for the score.
Running back Tre Madden chewed up the Cougars on the ground with 151 yards, but the secondary held firm and Brown led the team with 11 tackles. USC kicker Andre Heidari missed one field goal and had another blocked by Kalafitoni Pole.
Andrew Furney hit another field goal following a long pass play to Dom Williams. With less than three minutes to go Horton made another interception to seal the win.
What it meant: Although the loss did not immediately end things for Kiffin at USC, it placed him firmly on the proverbial "hot seat." A squeaker against Utah State followed a reasonable win over Boston College, and the Trojans fell to 0-2 in the Pac-12 after a blowout loss to Arizona State. With fans growing restless and recruits unwilling to commit to an assumed lame duck coach, athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin midseason, replacing him with assistant head coach Ed Orgeron.
For the Cougars it meant validation that the game at Auburn was no fluke, and that this year's team was ready to compete with, and beat, talented opponents. It also provided an insurance win of sorts, bringing the team one step closer to bowl eligibility against a team they were not expected to beat.
While the number of turnovers Halliday was committing was a concern, the secondary had performed better than anyone could have expected.
Most importantly, it meant that WSU was all alone atop the Pac-12 standings.