Three WSU coaches were asked about USC's defense and all three uttered the word "athletic" shortly thereafter.
The Cougars hope that the work they put in during Wednesday's practice can combat all that athleticism. How did it go? Our practice report is after the jump.
Perhaps Su'a Cravens is the most athletic player on that explosive defense. He was recruited as an All-Star safety recruit out of high school with scholarship offers from everybody that had one to give. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound sophomore moved to linebacker this season, and leads the Trojans with 9.5 tackles for losses and a pair of interceptions.
"He's really quick and kind of has a nose for the ball," Mike Leach said. "Comes downhill fast when he makes his decisions."
"He's physical man, he's a good football player but we knew that when he was coming out of high school," outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons said. "He's going to get up on the line and we're going to have to account for him in that aspect. He plays special teams as well so we'll have to account for him there and obviously have to account for him in pass coverage."
USC loves to blitz Cravens, and he gets to the offensive backfield in a hurry. So what are the Cougars going to do about the talented 19-year-old and his athletic teammates?
"We've got to play our best and just keep doing what we're doing on offense," running backs coach Jim Mastro said. "When there's an explosive play out there we've got to make it."
The Cougars will need a big game out of running back Jamal Morrow, who Mastro says continues to improve at an accelerated pace. We saw a bit of that early in the Arizona game when he broke a 16-yard run on WSU's second play from scrimmage, but the Cougars were forced to turn away from the run once the Wildcats got ahead early.
It will be even more important for Morrow to play well if fellow freshman running back Gerard Wicks isn't able to go against USC. Wicks wasn't at practice on Wednesday, but Mastro says he'll be back soon.
He also said to expect Theron West to get back in the mix at running back.
"He was out for a little while with some other stuff but he's back this week and you'll see more of him," Mastro said.
Also apparently absent from practice were receivers Drew Loftus and Calvin Green, and right tackle Cole Madison.
Charleston White was back at practice – I hadn't seen him since he suffered an injury against Stanford – but he was limited, as were Nick Begg, Isaac Dotson, Nate DeRider, Mack Hopkins and Kahshan Greene.
With Madison out Jacob Seydel took over as the starting right tackle. The good news for WSU fans is that Seydel has played very well in recent weeks and has been challenging for playing time.
The Cougars made a number of big plays defensive against the scout team, with Daquawn Brown starting things off with an aggressive interception of a quick Andrew Reding pass.
Sulaiman Hameed intercepted a pass by Connor Ennis, and Taylor Taliulu had a good stretch, intercepting one pass and then breaking up a pass that found Gabe Marks just a play or two later.
Erik Anderson, who Taliulu intercepted, had a nice play on offense split out as a receiver, making a nice catch with Taliulu draped on him.
Darius Lemora had the day's other interception, and almost had another when a pass bounced off Dewan Lee Thompson's hands.
Offensively River Cracraft was back out there running routes and looked as smooth as ever. Vince Mayle had a good day receiving the ball although he did drop what should have been a touchdown pass.
He wasn't the only one to let a ball hit the turf this week, however.
"Yesterday we had a lot of dropped balls so I'm not really happy about that," Simmons said. "Other than that I thought we've had a pretty decent week of practice."
Simmons said that the receivers have played well in the open field, and talked about having Dom Williams play both outside receiver positions.
"He's just a guy that where we're at right now has got to be able to do both sides," Simmons said. "He'll play some X, he'll plays some Z. He's been in the offense three years so he knows it."