PULLMAN – The USC team Washington State faces today will have a different, if familiar, look. The Cougars hope the game’s result is similar to the last time they faced USC – a 10-7 win in Los Angeles last season – even if the Trojans look more like Washington did last year under new coach Steve Sarkisian.
Considering that Sarkisian shares a similar offensive pedigree to Lane Kiffin, who coached the Trojans when they hosted WSU last season, it’s surprising to WSU coach Mike Leach how different USC’s offense looks.
“Lane was kind of traditional sort of … run, play-action, that kind of controlled passing game stuff,” Leach said. “Sarkisian (uses) more of the run and unbalanced lines and … trying to leverage you with extra people.”
The key cog in the USC offense is running back Javorius “Buck” Allen, who averages 5.7 yards per rush and already has 1,010 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season.
The Cougars have struggled against good rushing opponents this season, allowing 4.86 yards per rush on designed runs and quarterback scrambles. Expect WSU’s defense to devote a lot of energy to slowing down Allen today because when USC’s running game is dangerous, its passing game becomes much more effective.
The Trojans have rushed the ball 337 times this season and thrown it 273 times. As defenders creep forward to better defend the run, quarterback Cody Kessler will start to fake the handoff then throw over the top of the defense.
“Play-action is a big deal to them,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “And they’ll try to go deep.”
“The biggest thing is how threatened you are by their running back,” Leach said. “They’ve got a good running back, so I think that impacts their play-action.”
So if the Cougars can stop the run today against an offensive line that is likely to start three freshmen – albeit, extremely talented ones – they have a shot to slow down the entire USC offense.
A strong defensive performance would be a welcome change of pace for a team that gave up an average of 51 points per game in October. The Cougars have been hard-hit by injuries, particularly in the secondary.
Safeties Sulaiman Hameed and Darius Lemora should be good to go today, and nose tackle Kalafitoni Pole should play more snaps than he did against Arizona.
“We’ve been erratic,” Leach said. “I thought up front we’ve done some good things as far as defensive line, as far as guys pushing and emerging and stuff like that. It’s just been having to operate by committee at some of the other positions I think has been a problem.”
If all the committee members are present the defense may finally be able to contain an opposing offense, and it starts with shutting down the run.
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