PULLMAN – The last time the University of Southern California visited the Palouse, Pete Carroll was still the coach, Reggie Bush still had a Heisman Trophy and the Trojans were still eligible for the Pac-10 title.
A lot has changed since that mid-October day in 2008.
Lane Kiffin is the USC head coach. His dad, long-time NFL assistant Monte, is the defensive coordinator. Only one other assistant was on the staff in ’08. And the NCAA has hit the Trojans with sanctions due to the Bush family’s impermissible contact with agents and USC’s inability to control it.
The players are different, the management is different, the national reputation is different.
Heck, about the only similarity between USC then and USC now is both times the Trojans have been ranked, sixth then, 20th now.
So will the outcome be different?
To refresh your memory, USC came to Pullman, scored on its first six possessions, never allowed WSU to cross midfield, and won 69-0, snapping the Cougars’ 280-game scoring streak in the process.
“That was a bad day, definitely a bad day,” said senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman, then and now a starter, this week. “We were outmatched. They came in being, you know, SC, a powerhouse team, stronger, faster than everybody. And they definitely just overpowered us, took it to us.
“We couldn’t do anything.”
Heck, it was so out of hand, Carroll had Mark Sanchez, who tied a school record with five touchdown passes, all in the first half, take a knee on the WSU 10 with 17 seconds left before intermission.
“I gained a lot of respect for him,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said of Carroll’s act of sportsmanship, “on the decision that was made in the first half. I think they understood where we were at.”
The Cougars came into the game with a decimated offensive line and with one healthy scholarship quarterback, Kevin Lopina, but he was making his first appearance since breaking a bone in his back a month earlier. The game plan wasn’t built to threaten the USC defense but instead to protect Lopina.
“A huge goal was to come out of the game healthy,” Wulff said then. “We wanted to do everything we could to shorten the game and protect our quarterback.”
The Cougars threw nine passes, had just 116 yards of total offense and four first downs. In actuality, the Trojans could name the final score and they did, tamping down the margin by playing every healthy player they traveled with.
“They didn’t want to try to run the score up but it is kind of embarrassing almost,” Kooyman said.
With all the changes on both teams – WSU will suit up 17 players Saturday who played in that game, including four who started – Kooyman expects a different type of game Saturday.
“Night and day is a good way to describe it,” Kooyman said. “The defense is ready to go. We’ve shown signs of greatness these past couple games, we’ve just got to put it all together.
“I feel we’ve got a great opportunity against USC and the defense is going to come out flying around. We’re excited about it.”