PULLMAN – With 17 seconds left in the first half, Southern California had a second-and-8 from the Washington State 10-yard line. The Trojans had all three timeouts left.
They didn’t snap the ball.
Instead, coach Pete Carroll led his Trojans off the field and back to the locker room.
What did it matter? This Pac-10 football game had been decided.
And there were still 30 minutes left to play before sixth-ranked USC could officially post its fifth victory of the season.
It finished in a 69-0 thumping of WSU before a mostly disinterested crowd of 25,118 at Martin Stadium, many of whom may have stayed past halftime to see if the Cougars could extend its scoreless streak.
They couldn’t. It ended at 280 consecutive games.
That was with Carroll trying his best to rein in his Trojan horses.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Carroll said. “I wanted us to play football. I wanted to leave guys out there and get their playing time … and I wanted everyone to play. All of those things happened, but I was just concerned. I didn’t want the score to go up any higher than it had to.”
It’s not as if Washington State could stop USC. The Trojans scored on their first six possessions – the run-off was their seventh – and punted just twice, despite playing 63 of 64 players.
It’s not as if the 1-7 Cougars (0-5 Pac-10) came anywhere near scoring. They never penetrated USC territory on any of their 13 possessions, getting as close as 51 yards away once.
And it’s not as if scoring seemed to be their primary aim.
“A huge goal was to come out of the game healthy,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “We wanted to do everything we could to shorten the game and protect our quarterback.”
Mission accomplished. The 2-hour, 41-minute running time was the fastest game of the season and quarterback Kevin Lopina, making his first start since breaking his back against Portland State four weeks ago, was hit just twice.
“Took a couple hits and I felt it, but I’m all right,” said Lopina, who threw just nine passes, completing six for 28 yards – WSU’s fewest in a game since the 26 it collected against UW in 1975.
But that team still scored 27 points in defeat. Starting their sixth different offensive line in eight games, this Cougars offense was limited – in part by design.
“We’re extremely thin in the O-line,” said offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy. “Obviously, in football, that’s a pretty important area. That dictates everything. That dictates the running game, the passing game, it dictates what you do from a schematic standpoint, what your philosophy is.
“That’s where it starts and ends.”
What ended was any chance of a 421/2-point underdog pulling off an upset – or even being in the game.
The Cougars’ 116 yards of total offense were their fewest since a 49-0 loss to Stanford in 1969. Their four first downs the fewest since a 7-0 loss to Oregon State in 1953. The margin of defeat was the largest in the program’s history.
USC got the ball first and scored in 2:02. WSU went three-and-out. USC scored in 2:13. WSU went three-and-out. USC scored in 1:54. WSU went six-and-out – gaining its initial first down on a 10-yard hookup between Lopina and Jeshua Anderson, who was not only WSU’s leading receiver (four catches for 29 yards) but its second-leading rusher with 28 yards, all on one late reverse.
Then the first quarter ended.
“We had a game plan that we wanted to establish the run, and we had some play action off it,” Lopina said. “With the injuries on the O-line and the injuries at running back, I’m not going to say we didn’t trust our protection, but we just wanted to come out with a game plan where we wouldn’t be put in situations where I would be pressured a lot.”
Trailing 21-0 at the end of the first quarter – the third time that’s happened this year – the Cougars didn’t deviate.
By halftime, Lopina had thrown five passes. His counterpart in cardinal and gold, Mark Sanchez, had thrown five touchdowns passes, tying USC’s single-game record.
Sanchez, played sparingly after half, finished 15 of 20 for 253 yards and without a single stain on his uniform. The Cougars didn’t get anywhere close to him.
USC used three tailbacks and they all ran for more than 100 yards, topped by third-stringer Broderick Green’s 121 yards on 18 carries. He also had two touchdowns and C.J. Gable, who added 109 yards on 16 carries, scored three other times.
The Trojans (5-1, 3-1) ran for 362 yards (a 7.4 average) and passed for another 263 (a 16.4 average per completion).
“We need to grow up,” Wulff said. “We have to mature and learn how to fight a little bit more. We have to learn how to compete and not have the glazed look over their eyes.”