USC kicks off Pac-12 play with a visit from Washington State this weekend. Here are the Trojans’ keys to besting the pass-happy Cougars.
- Force Connor Halliday into mistakes.
The Washington State quarterback threw three interceptions in his team’s loss to Auburn last week. Those game-changing interceptions helped Auburn to victory in a close game and they could be the key to a Trojan victory as well. The Cougars’ air raid will attempt to take advantage of USC’s thin and young secondary, but that secondary could turn the table if the defense as a whole works together like they did against Hawaii. The early pressure from the defensive line against Hawaii’s Taylor Graham set the stage for his four interceptions, a pattern that the Trojans will look to replicate. The less comfortable Halliday is in the pocket, the more likely he is to make the costly mistakes of game one.
- Sustain long drives.
The key to the Washington State offense is volume. Lane Kiffin expects the Cougars to throw the ball 75-80 times. Allowing them to throw that much will only put more and more pressure on the secondary, with more and more chances for the secondary to make a major blunder. The USC offense can help prevent that by keeping Mike Leach’s offense off the field. The Trojans showed a willingness to run the ball in the first game with 45 attempts. Establishing the run successfully will allow the offense to run the clock and sustain long drives that will disrupt the flow of the opposition. It doesn’t have to be all running though. Giving the quarterbacks opportunities to get in rhythm with quick slants, easy outs and yes, the dreaded bubble screen would create longer drives that limit the Cougar offense and, just as important, give the USC defense valuable rest.
- Increase red zone and third down efficiency.
This plays into the previous key but deserves its own discussion because it has had such a negative impact on the Trojans going back to last season. USC had a measly 34% conversion rate on third downs last season and against Hawaii that number was down to 21%. In the red zone the Trojans came away with points 74% of the time. Against Hawaii USC scored every time they entered the red zone but had to settle for two field goals in four attempts. Those numbers must get better if the Trojans want to be successful in this week’s game and throughout the season. The long drives discussed earlier will be impossible if USC is unsuccessful on third downs. And those long drives will come to nothing if USC can’t get the most points possible when they get close to the goal line.