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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State defense can’t stop USC ground game as Trojans separate in second half

Oct. 9, 2022 Updated Sun., Oct. 9, 2022 at 9:07 p.m.

Southern Cal’s Travis Dye attempts to elude Washington State’s Jordan Lee on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Southern Cal’s Travis Dye attempts to elude Washington State’s Jordan Lee on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

LOS ANGELES – Edge rusher Brennan Jackson lamented Washington State’s inconsistent tackling in the second half against sixth-ranked Southern Cal.

The Cougars had trouble bringing down Trojan running back Travis Dye, who slipped through defenders and spearheaded the Trojans’ methodical offense after the half, keying his team to a 30-14 win Saturday at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

Dye totaled 95 yards on 17 carries in the second half to finish with 149 yards on 28 attempts. USC, which came into the game with a 50/50 run-pass balance this season, ran the ball on two-thirds of its second-half plays. The Trojans milked 13 minutes off the clock on their final two drives.

“A lot of that was just missed tackles,” Jackson said. “We needed to get (Dye) down in the backfield. He’s a great player. He was breaking tackles, but there were times in the game where we were wrapping up and it could be a 2-yard loss, but he slips out of it.”

USC’s offense took a balanced approach in the first half with 18 passes and 18 rushing attempts. Trojan quarterback Caleb Williams endured spells of inefficiency – he misfired on 7 of 8 passes during one stretch – so USC fed Dye and churned out a few long possessions against a WSU defense that played admirably for most of the night but showed signs of fatigue as the game wore on and its offense struggled to stay on the field.

“USC is as good as there is at attacking what you do,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said. “It was never perfect. We were constantly adjusting throughout the game.”

The Cougars fared relatively well in containing Williams, who does some of his best work outside the pocket. He passed 15 of 29 for 188 yards and rushed for 34 yards on nine carries. Williams rolled right and fired a 38-yard touchdown on the Trojans’ first series. That was by far USC’s most successful passing play. WSU allowed three 20-yard passes later in the game but clamped down on downfield attempts.

“He’s a really good player. He was out there scrambling for his life a lot of the time, and he was making plays,” Jackson said of Williams. “That’s what we saw on film. He’s an electric playmaker. We needed to get him down.”

The Cougars came up with five tackles for loss and one sack. They rank fourth in the nation in TFLs (49) and 11th in sacks (19). Despite surrendering 181 rushing yards at USC, WSU owns the No. 3 rushing defense in the Pac-12 (110 yards per game).

The Cougars defense made a red-zone stand and forced two consecutive three-and-outs after USC opened up a 10-0 lead early in the game.

“It could have turned ugly,” Dickert said. “They kept us in the game.”

WSU scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to take a 14-10 lead before USC capped the first half with a long TD series.

“We fought. We made the adjustments we had to in the first half and we were ready to go out there and win,” linebacker Daiyan Henley said. “We made mistakes. That comes with the game. I think, more than anything, penalties is what took us a couple of steps backwards.”

Five of WSU’s season-high 11 penalties were called on the Cougars defense. A couple of them were costly.

WSU committed an offside on a third-and-4 early in the game, and USC finished the drive with a TD. The Cougars were hit with another offside call on a third-and-long snap with their backs against the end zone. On the next play, nickel Armani Marsh collided with USC receiver Malcolm Epps along the sideline in the end zone before the ball arrived. The officials called defensive pass interference

and set up USC for a short TD.

Marsh left the field with an injury midway through the fourth quarter during USC’s final possession. Dickert didn’t have an update on the senior team captain after the game.

In the third quarter, cornerback Chau Smith-Wade jumped a short route and snagged an interception, but it was brought back after the referees determined the defender had put his hands on the intended target too early.

“We made some mistakes in key, critical situations that really hurt ourselves,” Dickert said. “The red-zone opportunities, lining up offsides twice.

“I’ll take the aggressive penalties – within the whistle, cutting it loose and playing fast and aggressive. I’ll get a chance to look at a bunch of those (calls) and the operation of the game and the refs. We’ll kinda sort that out as we go.”

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