The Washington State Cougars made a bevy of mistakes en route to a 28-0 first half deficit, and while they fought hard the rest of the way, that early margin that was more than enough to allow the USC Trojans to cruise to victory, 38-13.
WSU dropped to 1-2 overall, while USC improved to 4-0.
The Cougars hadn’t played a game since November 14, and while it seems plausible to blame their disastrous start on the long layoff, it’s worth noting that USC hadn’t played November 21, and the Trojans had no such issues getting going.
Their first drive looked promising, as they took the opening possession of the game into USC territory, but it fizzled on 4th-and-1 on the USC 35 after the officials missed a blatant offside by the Trojans that would have given WSU a first down; Jayden de Laura’s subsequent pass to Travell Harris was short and wide.
It didn’t take long for things to go south.
WSU was missing a bunch of players in the secondary, including perhaps their best defensive player, cornerback Jaylen Watson; Chau Smith-Wade, Chad Davis Jr. and Armauni Archie also didn’t make the trip. The Trojans wasted little time taking advantage, quickly moving into the red zone behind a 20-yard and 30-yard completions from Kedon Slovis to Drake London. Three plays later, Slovis found Amon-Ra St. Brown from 7 yards out for a quick 7-0 lead.
A WSU 3-and-out was capped by a mediocre punt by Oscar Draguicevich, and a 15-yard return by Tyler Vaughns set the Trojans up in Cougar territory. Five plays later, Slovis hit St. Brown again, this time from 22 yards out.
It felt like the car was skidding a little bit at 14-0, and it didn’t take much longer before the wheels flew off altogether.
On 2nd-and-8 from his own 38, de Laura tried to evade the pass rush by quickly flipping the ball where he thought his crossing receiver should be. Instead, he found the hand of Talanoa Hufanga, who executed one of the more athletic interceptions and returns you’ll ever see:
INTERCEPTION TALANOA HUFANGA❕ #USC has the ball on Wazzu’s 4 yard line up 14-0 with 2:39 left in 1st Qtr @USCScoop #FightOn✌️ pic.twitter.com/NZZ24tvmMx— Scott Schrader (@Scott_Schrader) December 7, 2020
From the WSU 4-yard-line, USC needed only one play this time — Slovis to St. Brown, again. 21-0, USC.
It got worse. On the first play of the ensuing drive, de Laura made one of his few truly freshman mistakes of the season, trying to force a ball into a window that didn’t exist. Olaijah Griffin came away with it, and USC was deep in WSU territory again.
Slovis to Drake for 28 yards took it down to WSU’s 3, and after the Cougars run defense held them out on 1st and 2nd downs, Slovis just went back to St. Brown for his fourth touchdown.
It was 28-0, and the first quarter wasn’t even over. But the game surely was.
USC soon scored another TD (this one a 35-yarder from Slovis to Vaughns, not St. Brown, just to mix it up), but the Cougars assured that they would at least not be shut out, closing out the half with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that covered 6:43 and was culminated with a 5-yard Harris rush from a wildcat formation with 28 seconds to go.
WSU, to its credit, would go on to play a spirited second half, particularly on defense: The Cougars held USC to just 66 yards after the break at a 2.4 yards-per-play clip after giving up 8.8 in the first half.
Rolovich also used the ... uh ... opportunity to allow a bunch of young and/or little-used players to get game action, including both of WSU’s backup quarterbacks. Gunner Cruz and Cammon Cooper split reps in the fourth quarter, including a crazy 16-play, 93-yard drive that they copiloted into the end zone over 10:38, ending with Cruz throwing the first TD pass of his career, a 6-yarder to Renard Bell.
WSU wound up out-scoring USC in the second half, 7-3, and outgaining the Trojans, 97-66. But it was far too little, far too late.
The Cougars play the last of their scheduled regular season games on Saturday against the California Golden Bears. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. from what is sure to be a chilly Martin Stadium.