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Why Wazzu’s Defense Will Be The X-Factor Against USC

Young Kwak -AP Photos

Sam Darnold has carried USC through the first four weeks, but will they survive a stingy Wazzu Defense?

Throughout his head coaching career, Mike Leach’s teams have been known for their high-flying offensive exploits. During his tenure at Texas Tech, Leach turned out offensive stars such as Wes Welker, current Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, Graham Harrell, and Michael Crabtree. 

Since inheriting the Washington State program in late 2011, the Cougars have produced offensive stars such as Connor Halliday, Gabe Marks, and current starting quarterback Luke Falk. But this year, it’s the Cougars defense that’s been getting the job done.

This Friday, the Cougars take on #5 USC and quarterback Sam Darnold in the friendly confines of Martin Stadium. The Cougars, ranked 16th in the current AP and Coaches poll, look to capitalize on the opportunity to score one of the biggest wins in the program’s recent history. In order to pull off this big upset of the 5th-ranked Trojans, Washington State must be able to slow down the explosive, yet somewhat inconsistent USC offense.

USC Offense:

The Trojan offense is currently rated 38th in the country, and is 7th in a Pac-12 conference that has been dominated by offense. USC’s passing attack is currently ranked 22nd in the nation, with superstar quarterback Sam Darnold accounting for 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns, but seven interceptions. Darnold’s favorite weapons are receivers Deontay Burnett, Steven Mitchell, and tight end Tyler Petite, who have totaled over 800 yards receiving between the three. But, with Burnett and Mitchell questionable for Friday’s game, Sam Darnold will have to look to spread the wealth through the air if one or both are unable to go.

A part of the USC offense that has made a much needed contribution is their rushing attack, which is ranked 51st in the nation, averaging 185.8 yards per game. The Trojans are led by the one-two punch of Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr. Jones has accounted for 322 yards on 59 carries and five touchdowns, he’s also added 85 yards receiving on three catches and a touchdown. Carr has added 298 yards on 47 carries and three touchdowns, while also adding 13 receptions for 130 yards. The two backs will need to be able to carry the load on the ground against a Cougar defense that has been leaky at times this year. Lulling the Wazzu defense to sleep running the ball could relieve the pressure Sam Darnold has been facing so far this season.

Washington State Defense:

Mike Leach’s stingy Cougar defense comes into the game ranked 11th in the country in total yards, only allowing 263.3 yards per game, which also ranks as the best in the Pac-12 conference. The Cougars this year have hung their hat on a pass defense that is the 12th best in the nation. The secondary has been led by sophomore safety Jalen Thompson, who has recorded two interceptions with three pass break-ups along with 25 tackles. Getting to Sam Darnold will be big as well as the Cougars have tallied 11 sacks so far this season, with half of them coming from defensive linemen Hercules Mata’afa and Nnamdi Oguayo.

On the flip side, the Wazzu rush defense comes into the matchup ranked 40th in the nation, slightly lower than their other defensive rankings. The front four of the Cougars is anchored by the previously mentioned Hercules Mata’afa, who has tallied 14 tackles this season, but has eight of them have gone for a loss. The Cougar linebacking corp is anchored by seniors Peyton Pelluer and Isaac Dotson, who have made 26 tackles and 21 tackles respectively this season. Wazzu’s veteran linebacking crew will play a major role in filling gaps and thwarting USC’s ability to run the football.

The Cougars defense will have their work cut out for them on Saturday with this talented USC squad. Their defense must be able to shut down USC’s ground attack and get pressure on Sam Darnold if they want a shot at a program-changing upset. But if USC has their way, the rest of the nation will see why Sam Darnold is being hyped as next year’s number 1 draft pick.

Edited by Brian Kang.

When was the last time Washington State beat a Top 5 team?
Created 9/27/17
  1. 1988
  2. 2003
  3. 1992
  4. 1997

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