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


The USC faces off against the Washington State in Pullman Saturday, as the Trojan defense looks to withstand the onslaught of the Cougars’ air raid offense.

That offense is one of the most potent in college football, ranked at the top in terms of passing nationally.

Washington State averages 489 yards passing per game and 535 yards of total offense per game, which is seventh in the country as well. They also sit third in first downs per game.

For USC, that’s a problem. The Trojans have struggled in pass defense this season, ranking 78th in the country.

Halliday’s Holiday

The Washington State offense begins and ends with senior quarterback Connor Halliday, who tops college football in nearly every passing category. He has thrown for 3,833 yards in 2014 and averages 479.1 yards per game, both national bests. He has thrown 32 touchdown passes, another national best.

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Of course, a big part of Halliday’s outrageous numbers this season involves his throwing the ball so much. He has thrown 149 more passes than the next most prolific passer in the Pac-12. Ten interceptions, which is the second most in the conference, are the unfortunate side effect of that volume of passing. That is an area USC must look to exploit as the conference’s top intercepting team.

Halliday is a point guard, every thing runs through him. Washington State averages 84 plays per game and nearly 70 of those are pass plays of some variety.

Spreading the Wealth

The Cougars feature three players ranked in the top ten in receptions this season. Vince Mayle, River Cracraft and Isiah Myers head a three-pronged air attack with Dom Williams trailing not far behind.

All four of Halliday’s target offer production at a similar clip. All have more than 500 yards receiving — Mayle leads with 926 — and all have more than six receiving touchdowns — Myers leads with nine.

Mayle is a big unit. Standing 6-3, 219 points, he uses his size to outmatch defenders.

Williams is tall as well at 6-2, but his vertical play-making ability is what sets him apart as he leads the Pac-12 in receiving plays of 30 or more yards.

Oct 4, 2014; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver River Cracraft (21) goes up for the catch against California Golden Bears cornerback Darius Allensworth (2) during the first half at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Cracraft is the youngest of the group, but probably the most consistent. As a possession receiver, he thrives in the shorter game and reliably produces whatever the Cougars need. He has the most 100-yard games alongside Mayle among Washington State receivers.

Myers is of a similar mold, praised for his excellent route-running.

At running back, Jamal Morrow averages almost as many catches per game as he does traditional carries. Though the Cougars make little attempt to use the run game with any regularity, Morrow is still involved in the pass.

Kevon Seymour will have his hands full with Mayle, but guys like Adoree’ Jackson and the entirety of the secondary face a very tough task trying to keep these playmakers contained.

Rebuilt Offensive Line 

Washington State’s offensive line has given up the third most sacks in the conference year, but when you consider the fact they run 26.9 pass plays per sack, the numbers look quite a bit better.

The line itself is rebuilt from last year’s unit, which returned just two players, left tackle Joe Dahl and left guard Gunnar Eklund.

It has been a consistent group however, as the same five have lined up across the line in all but one game this season. That game was last week when Sam Flor replaced Riley Sorenson, who has been limited by an injury, at center.

This probably won’t be a week for the Trojan defensive front to come away with a load of sacks, as the Cougar offense is built to get the ball away quickly.

What the stats say…

  • Though much-maligned, the Trojan pass defense actually ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in yards per game, allowing a respectable 244 yards per game. Additionally they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to an average passer rating of 112.96, which is third in the conference. Though he has been prolific, Halliday’s passer rating of 146.15 leaves him in the bottom half of the Pac-12.
  • Another perception of USC’s defense is skewed by the big plays they conceded to Arizona State at the end of that Hail Mary loss. However, the Trojans have actually done a good job preventing big plays this season, as evidenced by their low explosive drive percentage allowed, which tracks drives which average 10 yards or more per play. More evidence of that is USC’s place at second in the conference in fewest gains of 30 yards or more allowed. The Cougars are third in terms of long plays from scrimmage from that range, so something has to give.
  • The Cougars put up yards on just about every team they play, but a red zone touchdown percentage of 66% plays a large role in their 2-6 record. Despite leading the conference in yards, their scoring average is middle of the pack.

Projected Starting Lineups

Washington State Offense:WR #1 Vince MayleWR #21 River CracraftLT #56 Joe DahlLG #63 Gunnar EklundC #58 Riley Sorenson OR #64 Sam FlorRG #73 Eduardo MiddletonRT #61 Cole MadisonHB #5 Rickey GalvinWR #88 Isiah MyersQB #12 Connor HallidayRB #25 Jamal Morrow

USC Defense:DT #90 Claude Pelon OR #52 Delvon SimmonsNT #99 Antwaun WoodsDE #94 Leonard WilliamsRE #47 Scott FelixSOLB #21 Su’a CravensMLB #10 Hayes PullardWLB #56 Anthony SaraoCB #13 Kevon SeymourFS #27 Gerald Bowman OR #22 Leon McQuay IIISS #22 Leon McQuay III OR #24 John PlattenburgCB #2 Adoree’ Jackson