USC vs. Washington State 2013 Gameday Preview: Lineups, Links and Podcast


Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Los Angeles, Calif.7:30 PM Pacific | FOX Sports 1All-time Series: USC leads 58-8-4Last meeting: USC 50, Washington State 16 in 2010

Ever find yourself trying to decide between going to a really good Mexican restaurant that is 15 minutes away with bad service, and a smaller, faster, friendlier, yet less tasty take out place? That’s Lane Kiffin trying to decide between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. All throughout spring and fall camp, that decision’s been a struggle for the fourth-year head coach, and a Week 1 performance against Hawaii that saw them combine for a passer rating of 106.2 didn’t help. And so, in come the Washington State Cougars to kickoff the Pac-12 conference season, and the Trojans are without a definitive, full-time starting quarterback. It’s not exactly ideal for a coach with significant pressure to win and millions of armchair quarterbacks begging for his termination.

But perhaps it’s a better place to be in than Mike Leach, despite his Cougars being on an upward trajectory. The infamous Pirate has begun his second season in Pullman starting redshirt junior Connor Halliday at quarterback, who’s about as frustrating as they come. In 2012, he had the worst pass attempts to interceptions ratio of any quarterback in the Pac-12, and he struggled at times against a middle of the rung SEC defense last week at Auburn. Add in the fact that WSU had the nation’s worst offensive line in 2012 and USC has one of the nation’s top defensive lines, and Leach’s blood pressure should reach Kiffin’s boiling point.

So here we are, in Week 2 of what’s already an interesting season, about to find out which offensively-minded head coach is in a better quarterback situation, and who can handle it better. It’s Kiffin vs. Leach, two of the mind-gaming head coaches in college football. Giddyup.

Gameday links

When USC has the ball…

Last week at Hawaii, the Trojans lacked an offensive identity. They moved the ball at times and scored three touchdowns on offense, but they lacked a cohesiveness, especially in the passing game. You can credit some of that to the fact that Lane Kiffin and Clay Helton were working in two new quarterbacks with different skill sets, making for two different game plans. Nonetheless, the Trojans were able to move the ball on the ground successfully, and should be able to do so this week, as well. Last week, Auburn ran up 394 total yards against the Washington State defense and 295 of that was on the ground.  There was a commitment to the run by Auburn, which is illustrated in their 46 rushing attempts (6.4 ypc) and it was a very successful game plan for the Tigers. Kiffin could implement the same plan. In Hawaii, the Trojans’ toted the rock 45 times against the Warriors and rolled up 192 yards, so it would make sense that the game plan could be to exploit this Cougars’ defense on the ground.  The Trojans’ should try to equal their rushing attempt total from last week and physically take it to the Cougars. Not only does this protect your quarterback by forcing the defense to bring extra defenders into the box to stop the run, it also demoralizes and tires out the defense if you are successful in your attack.

The Cougars run a 3-4 defensive front with senior Ioane Gauta at the nose and Kalafitoni Poole and Xavier Cooper at the ends.  Nose is the linchpin of a 3-4 defensive front and Gauta seems especially undersized.  A consistent pounding and double team on Gauta should allow push up the middle and allow Max Tuerk and John Martinez to get to the next level to clear out the middle linebackers. Safety Deone Bucannon is the one that the Trojans’ will need to identify before every snap.  He is a second team all-conference selection from last year and he loves to mix it up, playing an athletic, physical game for the Cougs.For more on the USC offense vs. the Washington State defense, click here.

USC’s Projected Offensive Starters:QB Cody Kessler #6WR Nelson AgholorLT Chad Wheeler #72LG Max Tuerk #75C Marcus Martin #66RG Aundrey Walker #70RT Kevin Graf #77TE Xavier Grimble #86WR Marqise Lee #9FB Jahleel Pinner #38RB Tre Madden #23

Washington State’s Projected Defensive StartersDT Kalafitoni Pole #98NT Ioane Gauta #95DE Xavier Cooper #96Buck LB Destiny Vaeao #97Sam LB Cyrus Coen #42Mike LB Darryl Monroe #13Will LB Justin Sagote #10FCB Damante Horton #6SS Deone Bucannon #20FS Taylor Taliulu #30BCB Nolan Washington #2

When Washington State has the ball…

Redshirt-junior quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball an astounding 65 times for the Cougs against Auburn last week, completing 54 percent of his passes on the way to what wound up being a 31-24 loss. While the air raid offense is designed to limit quarterback mistakes, Halliday struggled in the pocket as a sophomore, and threw two interceptions in Week 1, while Auburn dropped two more. At receiver, Washington State’s Gabe Marks is the featured receiver at flanker, and there’s a slew of talent both inside and outside, while lining up with two slot receivers in the base four-receiver air raid formation. Sophomore Teondray Caldwell leads the way for the Cougs in the backfield, coming off a freshman season that saw him rush for 269 yards on 56 attempts. Caldwell led the Cougars in yards and carries against Auburn, and though his use was limited along with Marcus Mason, the running game was very effective, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Lane Kiffin has said that he expects WSU to throw the ball upwards of 70 times, as every running play in the Cougars offense is run from an audible. Last week, USC was stout against the Hawaii running game, they dominated the line of scrimmage with a solid effort from the front seven. The Trojans got to Taylor Graham seven times, which bodes well against WSU, as they gave up 57 sacks a year ago. That said, there’s question marks in the secondary for the Trojans, as USC is thin at corner, in addition to battling the injury bug.For more on the WSU offense vs. the USC defense, click here.

Washington State’s Projected Offensive StartersXWR Isiah Myers #88YWR River Carcraft #84LT Gunnar Eklund #63LG Joe Dahl #56C Elliot Bosch #60RG John Fullington #77RT Rico Forbes #76HWR Brett Bartolone #19ZWR Gabe Marks #84QB Connor Halliday #12RB Teondray Caldwell #34

USC’s Projected Defensive Starters:OLB Devon Kennard #42DE Leonard Williams #94NT Antwaun Woods #99DE George Uko #90OLB Morgan Breslin #91MLB Hayes Pullard #10WLB Lamar Dawson #55CB Kevon Seymour #13FS Josh Shaw #26SS Su’a Cravens #21CB Anthony Brown #16