USC has plastered Washington State a few times over the years but not in the past decade. Until Sunday night, when the Cougars ventured into the Coliseum without four of their top eight defensive backs due to the same reason they hadn’t played in nearly a month.
Throw in three WSU turnovers and the results were as expected. USC scored on its first five possessions and eased past the Cougars, 38-13. And earned pretty much unending praise from FS1’s announcing duo of Alex Faust and Petros Papadakis, broadcasting their second Cougar contest this season.
• Faust opened the broadcast setting what seemed to be an appropriate description.
“It is a rare Sunday special in the Pac-12 with a game that suddenly has big implications for both teams,” he said.
At the time, it did.
About 45 minutes later, after an Amon St. Brown four-touchdown first-quarter haymaker, the implications were all about USC. The Trojan (4-0) version of the Air Raid, as run by quarterback Kedon Slovis, looked as potent as Gardner Minshew’s edition. And the defense seemed to have some Palouse Posse DNA as well.
“If you are going to give USC turnovers the way Washington State has, and the way USC’s defense has gone out and forced them,” Papadakis said just before halftime. “A short field for a guy like Slovis … man, you’re behind the eight ball in a game and that’s exactly where the Cougars have put themselves here.”
That comment came just a couple minutes after FS1 had shown a graphic of the four quarterbacks in USC history that have thrown five touchdown passes in a half. The first had been Mark Sanchez, in Pullman 12 years ago in a game the Trojans won 69-0. It never got that bad in this one, though Slovis hardly missed.
“Seventeen completions in a row for Slovis,” Faust said after 35-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns made it 35-0 with 7:11 before halftime. “It is all working for the Trojans.”
“We knew the USC offense was capable of this,” Faust said a few minutes later. “But the defense has held up their part of the bargain as well.”
“The guys are putting on a show,” said Papadakis, the former USC running back.
Papadakis astutely noticed that Washington State had helped the Trojans with the fourth-down miss and two quick interceptions but also succinctly added “Man, did USC exploit it.”
• The missing Cougars (1-2) weren’t mentioned early as USC pulled away. But about halfway through the second quarter Faust and Papadakis mentioned what seems to be typical of this COVID-19-addled season, the number of defensive players Washington State was without.
By then, though, seemed a bit like noticing the barn door was open as the horses walked down Main Street. The Trojans, who didn’t play last week against Colorado due to their roster decimated by the virus, also were missing players on both sides of the ball. It didn’t seem to matter, though.
• The coronavirus issues forced the game to Sunday night, which meant the usual Fox halftime highlights seemed dated. They were, containing glimpses of Saturday’s college action.
• At least the obligatory blatant Pac-12 officiating mistake didn’t occur in the final seconds. Nope. It happened on Washington State’s first drive and ensured the Cougars would be behind early.
Facing a fourth-and-1 on the USC 35 on their first possession, Nick Rolovich decided to go for it. And USC’s Marlon Tuipulotu jumped into the neutral zone. So Brian Greene snapped the ball. Free play and, at least, four new downs? Uh, no. For some reason it went uncalled.
“Kind of awkward,” Papadakis said as the Trojans took over. “Thought that maybe it would be a free play for Washington State because it looked as if (Jayden) de Laura caught someone in the neutral zone, but they never took the flags out of the pocket.”
Fox showed the replay after USC scored on its ensuing possession.
“He was in the neutral zone,” said Papadakis after the replay of Tuipulotu’s early jump. “That should have been a free play and a new set of downs.”
One mistake is understandable. The problem with this one was simple. Line judge Maia Chaka and head linesman Bob Day were doing the same jobs two Fridays ago in the fiasco in Corvallis, when an Oregon D-lineman jumped offsides on a key play and went unflagged.
Twice in two weeks is a trend and needs to be addressed.
“You wonder how different this game would have been if that was called on the very first drive of Washington State,” said Papadakis, chuckling, as a fourth-quarter offsides was called on the USC defense.