USC Football: How the Washington State Defense Matches up with Troy’s Offense


The USC Trojans head to Pullman this weekend to seek redemption for last week’s last minute loss and revenge for last year’s upset against the Washington State Cougars.

Fortunately for the Trojan offense, they face a defense which has had its fair share of troubles this season.

The Cougars are 115th in the NCAA in scoring defense per game and sit in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in rushing, passing and total defense. In fact, in terms of the major statistical defensive categories, Washington State can’t claim a place above seventh in the conference.

Front Line

Washington State’s front line is led by redshirt junior Xavier Cooper, who started the season on the watchlists for the Lott IMPACT Award Trophy and the College Football Performance Awards Defensive Line Trophy.

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Cooper had five sacks in 2013 and has three sacks this year. He’s the Cougar’s leading lineman in that statistic and was named to Phil Steele’s midseason All-Pac-12 second team.

Aside from Cooper, Washington State does not get enough production from their defensive line. You have to go down 15 spots to find the another lineman on their list of leading tacklers this season. Redshirt senior Kalafitoni Pole has just 12 tackles. Darryl Paulo has 11.

Though the Trojan offensive line is reshuffling this week to deal with Chad Wheeler’s absence, this defensive front will be significantly less of a challenge than the Utah front they faced last weekend.

They should be able to get the necessary push to open holes for Buck Allen, who has rushed for 100 yards in all but one game this season, to do the damage he wants.

Linebackers Lead

The core of Washington State’s defense is at linebacker, where Darryl Monroe has led the way with a team-high 59 tackles in the center.

Of course, its a reflection of the Cougar defense that Monroe is fighting for his starting position with redshirt freshman Petyon Pelluer, who got the nod against Arizona but logged just one tackle. The two are expected to split snaps 50-50.

Junior Jeremiah Allison and senior Cyrus Coen occupy the Will and Sam positions respectively.

Sep 5, 2014; Reno, NV, USA; Washington State Cougars defensive players Jeremiah Allison (8) and Daquawn Brown (4) and Cyrus Coen (42) tackle Nevada Wolf Pack running back James Butler (20) in the first half of their NCAA football game at MacKay Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

The bulk of Washington State’s sack production this season has come from the Buck linebacker position, with Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan, both juniors, pitching in 3.5 and 2.5 sacks.

They will surely look to disrupt the USC passing game by attacking Toa Lobendahn in his first start at left tackle.

Youthful Defensive Backs

The Cougars have given up the third most passing touchdowns in the Pac-12 this year. Much of that can be explained by a secondary filled with youth.

Washington State’s two-deep in the secondary features just one upperclassman, strong safety Taylor Taliulu who has 18 career starts. Even then, the junior has split time lately with true freshman Sulaiman Hameed.

With 12 career starts at cornerback, sophomore Daquawn Brown is the next eldest statesman in the unit. Brown is also the talisman of the defense. He is second on the team with 57 tackles and is tied for fourth in the Pac-12 with nine pass break ups in 2014.

The trouble for Washington State is that they do not have more than one Brown to cover the likes of Nelson Agholor, JuJu Smith, Darreus Rogers or Steven Mitchell, even as the Trojan receiving corps is thinned due to injuries to Ajene Harris and George Farmer.

What the stats say…

  • Washington State is bad at preventing both explosive plays and methodical drives, as shown by their 105th ranking in giving up drives which average more than 10 yards a play and their even worse 114th rank in conceding drives of more than 10 plays.
  • The Cougars third down defense has left plenty to be desired as well. They rank 10th in the conference in giving up the conversion on third down. Pair that with USC’s second best third-down conversion rating in the conference and it doesn’t look good for Washington State’s ability to get the offense off the field. Of course, the glimmer of hope for Wazzu is that the Trojans have a pesky three-and-out problem, with 35.2% of their drives ending without a first down.

Projected Starting Lineups

Washington State Defense:

DT #96 Xavier CooperNT #98 Kalafitoni PoleDE #97 Destiny VaeaoBUCK #40 Kache PalacioSLB #42 Cyrus CoenMLB #47 Peyton PelluerWLB #8 Jeremiah AllisonCB #4 Daquawn BrownSS #30 Taylor TaliuluFS #28 Darius LemoraCB #17 Pat Porter

USC Offense:WR #9 JuJu SmithWR #15 Nelson AgholorTE #82 Randall TelferRT #73 Zach BannerRG #51 Damien Mama OR #60 Viane TalamaivaoC #75 Max TuerkLG #62 Khaliel RodgersLT #50 Toa LobendahnWR #1 Darreus RogersQB #6 Cody KesslerFB #38 Jahleel PinnerTB #37 Javorius Allen