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Sports >  WSU football

Two-minute drill: Keys to victory Washington State against No. 17 USC

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 5, 2020

Don’t take your eyes off …

On Nov. 21, Washington State cornerback Jaylen Watson gave USC some free bulletin board material when he tweeted “Jt>Kedon Slovis.” Watson, a transfer from Ventura (California) College who initially signed with USC and should be in his second year with the Trojans, was referencing former USC quarterback J.T. Daniels, who’s now at Georgia, and current starter Kedon Slovis. It’s unclear if anybody passed the message to Slovis, but USC’s QB is looking for a bounce-back game nonetheless. At 44.3 pass attempts per game, he’ll probably throw Watson’s way a few times. The WSU cornerback hasn’t been targeted yet. Among Pac-12 players, Watson had the seventh-highest grade in pass coverage after the Cougars’ last game, per Pro Football Focus.

When Washington State has the ball …

The Cougars better take care of it. While USC’s defense isn’t among the conference leaders in yards per game allowed, the Trojans are conceding only 24.6 points and their propensity for causing turnovers is a big reason why. Despite playing one fewer game than three teams in the conference, USC is the only team in the Pac-12 with at least four interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The Trojans’ nine takeaways are two more than Washington’s. It’s hard to truly measure the Cougars after two games, but ball security hasn’t been an issue, with Jayden de Laura’s interception at Oregon State signifying the team’s only turnover. The Cougars have faced two of the conference’s top pass-rushers, in Hamilcar Rashed Jr. and Kayvon Thibodeaux, but USC’s defensive line has produced eight sacks in three games – as many as OSU and Oregon combined.

When USC has the ball …

They’ve scored 31.7 points per game this season and the Trojans probably feel there’s still lots of meat on the bone. Slovis is completing his passes at a good enough clip (70%), but he’s thrown just five touchdowns and two interceptions in three games while taking six sacks. The sophomore’s name was being floated in Heisman Trophy conversations before the season, but he’s yet to break out and could be licking his chops this week, knowing the Cougars rank 11th in the Pac-12 at 320.5 passing yards per game allowed. Between Amon-Ra St. Brown, Drake London, Tyler Vaughns and Bru McCoy, the Trojans have a receiving corps that may be unmatched in the Pac-12, but USC is also strong on the ground. In Graham Harrell’s version of the Air Raid, the running backs are used more frequently. Much like WSU a few years back with Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and James Williams, the Trojans have struck balance in their backfield with three legitimate rushing options: Markese Stepp (26 attempts, 135 yards, two touchdowns), Vavae Malepeai (33, 130, two) and Stephen Carr (23, 122, two).

Did you know?

WSU’s Nick Rolovich is still getting to know many of the coaches in the Pac-12, but he has history with USC’s Clay Helton. Good history, that is. Rolovich has developed a relationship with the sixth-year Trojans coach, but that’s mostly because of the relationship he built many years earlier with Helton’s younger brother, Tyson, the head coach at Western Kentucky. Tyson Helton, 48, got his first coaching opportunity in 2000 as a graduate assistant at Hawaii under June Jones, the same man who recruited Rolovich to play quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors. Rolovich and Helton were both in Honolulu for two seasons (2000, 2001) before the former went on to play in Germany for the Rhein Fire when his eligibility expired.

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