Friday night’s USC vs. WSU score was up and down, but ultimately finished in favor of the Trojans, who overcame a 13-point third-quarter deficit to extend their home winning streak to 18 games.
The lowdown: USC opened the game with a picturesque five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a handful of gashing runs. But as the Trojans are prone to do, they went away from it, leading to a rocky first half.
Washington State scored on five-straight drives to bookend the half and ultimately take a 30-17 lead early in the third quarter. Quarterback Gardner Minshew was carving the Trojans up with passes underneath and around defenders, as Clancy Pendergast seemingly had no answer. But USC would respond.
JT Daniels was 7-of-10 in the second half for 118 passing yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to Michael Pittman and Amon-Ra St. Brown. And on the ground, it was the stellar night of Vavae Malepeai who ultimately delivered the knockout blow to the Cougars. He rushed for 80 yards on 13 carries, including scoring the game’s first and final touchdowns.
Washington State had one final shot in the waning minutes, but Jay Tufele blocked a Blake Mazza field goal attempt to give USC a 39-36 home win.
The takeaway: USC’s defense is due for a clunker of a game every season under Clancy Pendergast, as evident with the 62-point night by Arizona State in 2013, Alabama’s 52-point romp in 2016 and the 49-point shellacking at the hands of Notre Dame last year. Friday night may have this year’s version, with the Trojans looking completely incapable of stopping Washington State for long stretches.
They struggled to get a pass rush going early while Porter Gustin was suspended during the first half and had breakdowns in coverage throughout the night, particularly cornerbacks Greg Johnson and Isaiah Langley.
If it’s a sign of things to come for an already wounded secondary, it could be a long season, with several pass-heavy teams left on the docket, including Colorado next month.
But for all their struggles, there was a brief glimmer of hope. True freshman safety Talanoa Hufanga had a tremendous night all things considered, with nine total tackles and a game-saving pass breakup. That’s the performance they needed after being down three safeties.
Player of the game: Who else but the kid, JT Daniels. USC’s true freshman quarterback was a big reason the Trojans overcame a 13-point second half deficit, completing 17 of 26 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat of the game: USC ran their lengthy home winning streak to 18 games.
Next on tap: The Trojans will head back out on the road to play Khalil Tate and the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. Before the season, this looked like a potential game of the year in the Pac-12 South. Now? Not so much, given how both teams have disappointed in September.