LOS ANGELES – The objective for any road football team is to play so well through the course of a game that it can zap energy and passion out of the crowd and neutralize the advantage a “home field” is supposed to provide.
The Washington State Cougars (3-0) may not have to work hard to do that when they visit Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Friday night for a Pac-12 opener against USC (1-2). If anybody has sucked the life out of USC’s proud fan base, it’s been the Trojans themselves.
In the sprawling metropolitan city of Los Angeles, residents don’t have to look long or hard to find something to occupy themselves on a Friday night. When the local college football team isn’t meeting expectations, the 93,000-seat venue can quickly become a forgotten fortress. That could be the case when the Cougars and Trojans kick off at 7:30 p.m.
Not meeting expectations, in this case, is losing your last two games. Down here, it isn’t significant that those losses may have come to teams with similar expectations to USC, Stanford and Texas, but what is significant is both defeats came by double figures – the first time that’s happened since 2000.
The MLB’s Dodgers and any number of area high schools may grab a few thousand of the fans who’d normally attend a Saturday game at the Coliseum.
Another inadvertent effort to encourage Trojan fans to spend their night almost anywhere else? The school has disallowed on-campus tailgating while classes are in session. It has also prohibited pregame grilling/boozing at another popular locale, Exposition Park, because of ongoing construction at L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Amid those renovations, no on-site parking is available and thousands of season tickets reportedly have been displaced.
Not exactly an ideal formula to build the home-field edge you’d like to have before hosting a surging team like WSU that outstrategized and outplayed you the year before.
“We’ve been building up toward conference play and each game has been just another stepping stone to get toward it,” WSU defensive tackle Nick Begg said earlier in the week. “And now that it’s finally here, we’re ready to go. … We’re excited to start getting after it. I woke up this morning ready.”
WSU has defeated USC 10 times in its history. While the Cougars have defeated the Trojans in back-to-back meetings before (2000 and 2002), they’ve never done so in consecutive years. Sixth-year seniors Robert Lewis and Peyton Pelluer, who were traveling redshirts the last time WSU won at the Coliseum in 2013, have a rare opportunity to become the first players in school history to pocket three wins against the Trojans.
For the other Cougars – many of them SoCal natives who were never offered by the USC dynasty – boosting their personal record against the Trojans to 2-0 would certainly be vindicating.
“I grew up a really, really big USC fan,” said wide receiver Jamire Calvin, a Pasadena native. “The Reggie Bush era, that was always my favorite player. Then in high school they were one of the only schools that didn’t offer me, so I kind of built up a little hatred for them.”
Many of the Cougars admitted having that same chip-on-the-shoulder mindset last season, then beat the Sam Darnold-led Trojans 30-27 in Pullman. Darnold, now a New York Jet, recently became the youngest quarterback to start an NFL game. His successor at USC, J.T. Daniels, is one of the youngest collegians to play behind center for the Trojans.
Daniels reclassified and left SoCal powerhouse Mater Dei one year early so he could compete for USC’s starting job. He won it during preseason camp, but it’s been a bumpy ride for the Trojans rookie these last few weeks. He’s attempted 98 passes since his last touchdown and has thrown three interceptions since then.
Daniels’ veteran offensive line has been at the center of the criticism, too, giving up nine sacks in three games. The running game netted minus-5 yards in last week’s to Texas.
“Anytime you have a true freshman (QB), it’s tough,” Cougars defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “They’ve played a tough schedule and they’re trying to find themselves I think a little bit, but they still have the athletes and they’re big up front. Before the end of the year, I’m sure they’ll get it figured out.”
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