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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State mailbag: Coug fans wondering about their team’s chances vs. USC

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 16, 2021

Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich waves to fans as he heads to the locker room talking with WSU defensive end Moon Ashby (94) after the Cougars defeated Portland State 44-24 on Saturday, Sep 11, 2021, at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich waves to fans as he heads to the locker room talking with WSU defensive end Moon Ashby (94) after the Cougars defeated Portland State 44-24 on Saturday, Sep 11, 2021, at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

USC comes to town without a head coach, and Washington State (maybe) found its groove in a blowout win over an FCS visitor.

Cougs fans are wondering whether they should feel optimistic about their team’s chances against the Trojans, who sent coach Clay Helton packing this week after a dismal loss to Stanford.

What do you think has contributed to the 1-1 start? Utah State being better than expected or poor play by the Cougs? The Cougs improving in Week 2 or Portland State being Portland State? A combination? I feel it’s tough to get a read on this team after two weeks.

– @bdamundson

That last bit is exactly what I’ve been thinking throughout the week. I’m certainly not ready to predict how the Cougs stack up in the Pac-12, the success of which has fluctuated by the week thus far.

So I’m guessing the USC game will provide us a more legitimate measuring stick on WSU’s progress.

In Week 1, I’d figure it was a little of both. The Aggies were much more talented than they’d been in 2020, no doubt. Their fast-paced approach threw the Cougs off, and their defense had some real players.

But the Cougars were also ill-prepared, uninspired, etc., in every phase – besides punting. Rejoice.

In Week 2, again, I’d guess it was a little of both.

With the way WSU’s offense played in that second quarter, the Cougs probably could have found success against a far more formidable opponent.

Quarterback Jayden de Laura had his best day in a WSU uniform. It was important that the fast-improving sophomore got a confidence boost ahead of a matchup with a USC team that made his life miserable last year.

The Vikings’ defense had just surrendered almost 600 yards to Hawaii in a blowout loss the week before, so WSU’s offense was expected to cruise.

It found a new, effective tempo and struck a run/pass balance that was missing the week prior – maybe that was the most important takeaway from the Portland State game.

I was impressed with WSU’s first-team defense, which was missing three key pieces in its secondary. Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander is not at all a shabby player, but he was mostly contained. He passed under 50% for less than 200 yards against the Cougars’ first-stringers.

I do believe the Cougs would be 2-0 right now if they had come out in Week 1 with the same play-calling, personnel and general energy we saw in Week 2.

How does the firing of Clay Helton affect the game plan we had for USC?

– @footballfan552

The coaches and players keep saying something along the lines of: “We can’t pay attention to that; we gotta focus on ourselves.”

Not certain if that’s just another football cliche or if it’s spot on. Remember, USC still has both of its coordinators – third-year OC Graham Harrell, a former Coug who learned the Air Raid from Mike Leach; and second-year DC Todd Orlando – and all of its position coaches.

USC will let it fly on offense with its experienced QB and highly regarded receivers.

On the other side of the ball, the Trojans will field largely the same personnel they did last year, when USC was one of the better defensive teams in the Pac-12.

Also, the Trojans had less than a week to prepare after their coach was fired, so it’d be a fair assumption that they come out with the same schemes from Weeks 1 and 2.

At the same time, though, there might be some disorganization on their sideline without the head man, whose responsibility is to keep things running smoothly. Maybe USC’s flow is off, and maybe WSU capitalizes on that.

I don’t think Helton’s firing changes the game plan, yet it’s possible that it changes the game. How so? That remains to be seen.

It was interesting to hear that Rolo had taken some of the decision-making as to when to run the ball off of de Laura’s plate in the last game (a good idea, in my opinion). How much true autonomy do QBs have in the run-and-shoot? Would assume it increases as a QB spends more time in the system?

– @jemd1966

I believe you’re assuming correctly.

From what I’ve gathered – and again, I’m new to WSU and still learning the ins and outs of the offense – the run-and-shoot can be a beast for QBs to figure out.

It seemed coach Nick Rolovich had de Laura think less vs. Portland State and run some base plays, rather than switching things up on the fly depending on the coverage he was seeing – that’s a major part of the run-and-shoot.

As it turned out, that’s when WSU’s offense was at its most productive.

I wish I could answer your question about autonomy. Rolovich hasn’t really talked about that, but tell you what, I’ll ask about that at the next opportunity.

My theory is that de Laura is being eased into it – considering his youth.

Have you thought of any more creative ways to ask the (vaccine) question?

– @thelocalhistory

The kitchen sink has been thrown at Rolovich concerning his hushed nature on whether he’ll receive a vaccine or seek an exemption ahead of the state’s Oct. 18 deadline.

He was asked about it 10 times in one sitting this week. KING 5 News’ Chris Daniels fired off eight straight questions, to no avail. The reporter hit all the points – the vaccine deadline, the possible exemptions, the split fan base, the $3.2 million a year, the lack of transparency, the potential termination.

In the four weeks since Gov. Jay Inslee’s edict was announced, Rolovich has received at least 15 questions regarding his status.

The coach is determined to keep mum on the subject, to maintain privacy in whatever he decides.

At this point, the realist in me says the creativity of the question might not matter if the question in point contains a no-no word like “vaccine/shot” or “exemption” or “mandate.”

As a new Pullman resident, any restaurants you’d recommend?

– @bdgiddens6

Huge fan of Palouse eateries.

I think Pullman’s a tad underrated in that respect. I lived in Moscow for just over four years, and the people there love to tout their local grub. But their neighbors to the west do it well, too.

I tried Cougar Country for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Brilliant.

Popped in to Nuevo Vallarta the other day. Stellar.

Old European and Zoe Coffee & Kitchen have been clutch. I’ve spent some time writing at both fine establishments (I consider myself a hot sauce connoisseur, by the way, and the stuff they’ve got at Old European is exceptional).

I’ve been meaning to try more. Just have been a bit buried in the job.

The Coug is next on my list.

It’s not a restaurant, but in case anyone’s wondering, I love the low-key, old-school vibe at Rico’s Pub.

Please fill my inbox with recommendations.

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