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WSU vs. USC: Revisiting the Three Things

In general, the team passed with flying colors. Connor Halliday ... not as much.

USC's receivers found little room to roam.
USC's receivers found little room to roam.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, I record a video akin to a vlog in which I tell you about Three Things I want to see from WSU in its game that weekend. They aren't keys to the game; rather, they are things that -- if I see them -- will make me feel good about the direction the team is heading. I tend to think globally.

(Sometimes, though, they sound an awful lot like keys, so I wouldn't blame you if you get confused.)

Here's the video if you missed it on Saturday, and here's how I thought the team graded out.

Secondary stepping up

This might be the easiest grade I give out all year. The Cougs held USC to just 54 yards passing on 21 attempts -- an nearly unbelievable 2.6 yards per attempt. If you're unsure just how spectacularly low that is, it's lower than any mark WSU posted during the Paul Wulff era -- the lowest being 3.3 yards per attempt against Oklahoma State in Wulff's debut. (We should have known what was coming!)

The popular take on the Trojans' anemic passing game is that Lane Kiffin is an idiot and his two quarterbacks are awful, and maybe they are. But they threw for just a shade under 6 yards per attempt against Hawaii, and if we're being honest here, bad coaching and bad quarterbacks never really seemed to stop anyone from throwing for a bazillion yards against WSU the last five years.

Beyond that, how many times did Cody Kessler and Max Wittek drop back, scan the field, and fail to pull the trigger? Again, maybe they're that terrible. But anytime the camera showed a guy downfield, there was a Coug running right with him. And the corners were all over the quick passes. And Damante Horton did what he did.

These guys were awesome.


Come back strong

Last season, these guys seemed to follow up strong performances with poor ones -- Oregon was followed with Oregon State, Stanford was followed with Utah, UCLA followed with Arizona State. So I was curious to see if they could walk the walk when it came to the talk of this team being different.

Were they perfect against USC? Of course not. It was a flawed performance, to be sure.

But nobody can question the guts and courage that ultimately led to the result on Saturday. These guys flat played their rear ends off, competing from start to finish. Even when things went sideways -- and they did, a few times -- they didn't hang their heads and they fought back.

They channeled their anger over the loss to Auburn into a victory. They didn't settle for almost winning, as recent editions have. This team is different. And it is awesome.


Better decisions from Connor Halliday

Ehhhhhhhhhh. Can't win 'em all.

I'll say this: In rewatching the game last night, I vastly underestimated the amount of duress Halliday was in during the game. Watching it in the "Football in 60" format dramatically compresses the action, and it was stunning just how relentless USC was in its rush -- particularly up the middle, which will make a quarterback as uncomfortable as just about anything.

I'm not absolving Halliday of responsibility. The first pick appeared to be thrown late, and he has to be disciplined enough to eat the ball on the fumble and second interception. But I focused so much on him as I was watching the game on Saturday, I neglected to notice just how powerful USC's rush was -- I knew it was good, but the second viewing reminded me how good.

One thing that became fairly obvious in watching the compressed format was the strategy shift in the second half to very quick passes. And you'll note that Halliday didn't do anything to allow USC to snatch the game from WSU. It's not what we want out of our quarterback, but it's a start.


Do you disagree with my grades? What were you looking for, and what did you see?

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