USC vs. Washington State Gameday Preview: Matchups, Injuries, Lineups and Links


USC vs. Washington State

Martin Stadium | Pullman, WA1:30 PM Pacific | Pac-12 NetworksAll-time Series: USC leads 58-9-4)Last meeting: WSU 10, USC 7 in 2013, at LA Coliseum

If there’s one thing that’s clear through eight games , it’s that the Trojans haven’t developed a killer instinct.

Despite being out-played just once this season, USC finds themselves with three head-scratching losses and desperately needing to awake the echoes of the Pete Carroll era for a No-Loss November if they want to call this year a successful one.

That starts today in a revenge game against the conference’s free-swinging gunslinger Connor Halliday, and the Washington State Cougars.

A year ago, these teams met at the Coliseum in what was one of the ugliest games in the history of USC football.

Both teams were abysmal on offense, and a Cody Kessler pick six was ultimately the difference in the game, which ended 10-7 to the Cougs, amid a serenade of boos and ‘Fire Lane Kiffin’ chants.

Fast forward a season and both Kessler and Halliday are worlds better than they were then. Both have benefitted from the confidence of truly being the No. 1 quarterback and are putting up career years to boot.

With both defenses giving up plenty of yardage through the air, this afternoon’s battle in the Palouse should be loaded with offensive firepower.

But if USC is going to be back in the with column, Steve Sarkisian’s offense better develop the ability to kill of games. Halliday has already led one miraculous comeback this season.

A second would be so predictable for USC, and yet so devastating.

Let’s see if the Trojans can bounceback.


In our USC vs. Washington State preview podcast, Michael Castillo hosts and is joined by Reign of Troy editor Alicia de Artola and staffer Josh Webb to talk about the Trojans matchup with the Cougars, in addition to predictions of the game could play out.

Gameday Links:

USC Injury Report:

  • Out for the season: Kenny Bigelow (knee), Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (academics), Jabari Ruffin (knee), Jordan Austin (hip), Chris Willson (foot), Christian Tober (collarbone), Tre Madden (toe), Lamar Dawson (knee), Chad Wheeler (knee)
  • Out: Josh Shaw (ankles/suspended), Jordan Simmons (knee), J.R. Tavai (knee), Soma Vainuku (hamstring), Ajene Harris (hamstring)
  • Questionable: George Farmer (hamstring)
  • Probable: Leonard Williams (shoulder), Gerald Bowman (foot)

Bookmark our Injury Report and News Ticker to stay up to date on USC injury news.

Washington State Injury Report:

  • The Cougars do not publicize injuries.

When Washington State has the ball…

Washington State likes to throw the football. They like to throw it a lot. How much so? Quarterback Connor Halliday has 126 more passing attempts than anyone in the country.

Seriously. UMass’s Blake Frohnapfel has one more game on Halliday and is still second in FBS by that obscene margin.

The air raid offense functions on the idea of moving the ball methodically down the field by creating mismatches over the middle with linebackers on slot receivers.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

That should be the case against the Trojans, who have deployed a strong bend-but-don’t-break deep safety defense between the 20s, giving up underneath routes as a prevention of the deep ball.

It’s worked, as USC has only surrendered four passes of 30 or more yards this season. Three were against ASU in the form of Mike Bercovici touchdown passes, including the now infamous Hail Mary to Jaelen Strong.

The other was a defensive breakdown on a botched audible on fourth down against Arizona, resulting in Anu Solomon’s only touchdown pass of the game.

While the Cougars have had their fair share of long passes, the overwhelming majority of their passes come in the short to intermediate range. Only 11 percent of completions have gone for more than 20 yards, which should enable them to pick up a steady dose of yards on the Trojans.

For the SC defense, they’ll need their red zone defense to come up big, due to those yards. USC has the ninth best red zone defense in the country and forced two turnovers at the one-yard line last week against Utah.

They’ll also have to find a way to disrupt Halliday’s delivery, as he’s quick enough to where blitzes are often useless. WSU is only giving up one sack per every 27 pass attempts, making their 91st-ranked pass protection rather deceiving.

To help with pressure, look for the Trojans’ defensive line to try and get in Halliday’s passing lanes and sight lines. That could lead to batted balls and turnovers.

And even though USC might not be able to generate a steady rush against the quick passing attack of the Cougars, the loss of outside linebacker J.R. Tavai to a knee sprain is huge. Tavai was arguably the Trojans’ best player last week, recording six tackles and two tackles for loss.

Scott Felix takes over as the primary rush end, and Su’a Cravens will have to pick up the slack on other side at strongside linebacker. Luckily for SC, Cravens has had no problem making play after play this season, especially when blitzing off the edge.

At the end of the day, it’ll come down to USC needing to make big plays on defense, rather than giving them up. They’ve been good at that in the first three quarters of games, but it’s time to put together a whole game, as Halliday is not the same guy that he was a year ago when he threw 22 interceptions, and he’s more than comfortable throwing in the fourth quarter.

For more on how WSU’s offense matches up against the USC defense including a side-by-side statistical breakdown of the matchup, click here.

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

When USC has the ball…

Where to start with this USC offense? They’ve been the definition of Jekyll and Hyde so far this season.

When mixing in the power run game with the explosive intermediate passing attack that the Trojans have, they’ve been unstoppable this year.

But through eight games, they’ve had plenty of inconsistencies, with last week’s game against Utah serving as the prime example for such erratic play.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

USC came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, as quarterback Cody Kessler was 12 of 13 for 157 yards in the first quarter. But after losing left tackle Chad Wheeler to a torn ACL, Sarkisian dialed back the playbook significantly, and the Trojans spent the middle quarters punting every fourth play.

That was, until the fourth quarter when they re-opened the playbook to  sliced and dice the Utes for a go-ahead scoring drive.

This week, they’ll be looking to stay moving forward, and hope to finally finish out a game on offense, which they’ve yet to do in a close game. Today’s matchup however, suits them.

Defensively, the Cougars have struggled mightily. They’re giving up 38 points per game, 6 yards per play and rank 112th in defensive efficiency according to Football Outsiders.

They simply have not been aggressive enough, which has long been a trait attached to Mike Leach defenses. WSU is 120th in the country in takeways, and only Wyoming has intercepted fewer passes this season. For the record, they have zero.

With USC’s ability to hold onto the football, turning the ball over just seven times all year, this is a week that begs for the Trojans to be aggressive offensively.

It would behoove Sarkisian to come out slinging as they did against Colorado two weeks ago, but with Toa Lobendahn taking over for Wheeler at left tackle, the gameplan may be to live and die on the run game.

Washington State has given up 192 or more yards on the ground four times through eight games,  and only pass-happy Cal and Portland State out of the FCS failed to put up at least 157 yards on the Cougs.

Either way you cut it, barring over-conservatism on the Trojans’ part, they should be able to move the football rather successfully.

It’s just a matter of how willing Sarkisian is to do so, which is unpredictable at this point. That’s a rather indicting uncertainty.

For more on how USC’s offense matches up against the Washington State defense including a side-by-side statistical breakdown of the matchup, click here.

Projected Starting Lineups

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

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

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