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Sports >  WSU football

First look: Washington State at No. 17 USC

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 30, 2020

Southern California players pose for a photograph after their NCAA college football game against Utah Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Salt Lake City.  (Associated Press)
Southern California players pose for a photograph after their NCAA college football game against Utah Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (Associated Press)

What is it? Washington State (1-1) visits USC (3-0) in a rare Sunday night Pac-12 cross-division matchup.

Where is it? Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

When is it? Kickoff is 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where can I watch it? Fox Sports 1 will carry the broadcast.

Who is favored? The Trojans opened as 12½-point favorites.

How did they fare last week? Originally scheduled to play Washington in the Apple Cup, the Cougars missed their second straight game due to COVID-19 issues. USC, which was supposed to play Colorado, was also idle because of positive tests/contact tracing within the Trojans football program.

Why WSU will win: It’s hard to find many silver linings in what’s happened to WSU the last two weeks, but one would be the rest and recovery it’s given running back Deon McIntosh. In the first two games, McIntosh virtually played every snap for the Cougars, rushing for 239 yards on 7.0 yards per carry. That may have been sustainable for another week, but probably not two more. If Max Borghi isn’t in the fold for the Cougars, at least McIntosh’s legs shouldn’t be a concern after 15 days off. Presuming it’s Jayden de Laura behind center for WSU against USC, the freshman quarterback may want to take some cues from Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels, who found ways to exploit the Trojans in the run game, rushing 11 times for 111 yards in the season opener. Even if the Cougars struggle on defense, which we’ll touch in the next section, they’ve been able to have success on offense against the Trojans, scoring 66 points in the last two meetings.

Why USC will win: First and foremost, because the Trojans haven’t done anything other than that yet. They also have the benefit of rest, albeit not as much as the Cougars. WSU has faced a handful of Air Raid teams over the years, but this will be the first time since 2011 the Cougars will do so without running the offense themselves. The sample size is small, but among the 126 teams in the FBS, WSU’s passing defense ranks No. 118 at 320.5 yards per game allowed and the Cougars continue to make critical errors in the defensive secondary that enables their opposition to capitalize on big plays. USC’s defense hasn’t been superb, but the Trojans are scoring 31 points per game and Graham Harrell’s offense, as it’s designed to, is leading the Pac-12 at 323.3 passing yards per game. It could be a long night for the Cougars if they struggle to cover USC’s receiving quartet of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Drake London, Tyler Vaughns and Bru McCoy. At one point, St. Brown, Vaughns and McCoy were each rated either the first or second best overall recruit in the state of California.

What happened last time: Most WSU fans won’t need a reminder, but the Cougars could’ve won the Pac-12 North, and still lost in the Apple Cup, had they held off the Trojans in 2018. The Cougars led 24-17 at halftime and even after USC went up 39-36, WSU still had an opportunity to punch in a game-winning touchdown or send it to overtime with a field goal. Mike Leach’s team got the ball back with approximately 5:30 left in the game and Gardner Minshew drove the Cougars down to USC’s 25-yard line. On first-and-10, moments after throwing incomplete to Renard Bell, Minshew was speared in the helmet by Trojans linebacker Porter Gustin, though officials didn’t throw a targeting flag – a decision that was scrutinized by WSU fans the rest of the season. A few plays later, the Cougars squandered a chance to send the game to overtime when Blake Mazza’s field goal was blocked, securing a 39-36 win for USC.

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