USC football returned to action this past Sunday against the Washington State Cougars after their game against the Colorado Buffaloes last week was canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases within the USC program.
Coming into this game, USC had lost two of their last four matchups against the Cougars but won their last meeting in 2018, 39-36. Also, they came into this game ranked 20th with the inside track to reach the Pac-12 Championship game. USC looked fresh after the week off as they dominated the Cougars 38-13. Here is my breakdown of the game.
USC started their first possession of the game at their own 35-yard line after the defense forced a WSU turnover on downs. This possession catalyzed into a dominant first half for the Trojans as the offense scored touchdowns on their first five drives to give the team a 35-0 lead. It was the Kedon Slovis show as in the first half, he put up the quintessence of efficiency in his statline as he threw five touchdowns and 209 yards on 17 of 18 attempts. For the second straight game, Slovis threw the ball down the field early and often, allowing the offense to get into a rhythm early. While he only finished with 287 yards, it was his best performance this season. The offensive line gave him plenty of time to throw and he looked in tune with his receivers all game long.
Drake London continued his strong season with 92 yards on five receptions with 53 of them coming on USC’s first drive of the game. Tyler Vaughns, who hasn’t been the focal point of the offense this season with London’s emergence, had another decent performance with 69 yards on five receptions and a touchdown. Vaughns is good for several key receptions a game and with the loaded receiving corp USC has, that is all he needs to do. However, against WSU, Amon-Ra St. Brown stole the spotlight with four touchdown receptions in the first quarter. He made some spectacular acrobatic catches while in the air and made WSU’s man coverage look silly with touchdowns on each of his first four receptions. Freshman wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. chipped in with 31 yards on four receptions, a nice sign for a receiver who could be needed to step up in case one of the top receivers go down with an injury this season.
As great as the aerial show was, the ground game was non-existent. USC as a team gained five yards on the ground with Kenan Christon being the leading rusher with 11 yards. While it had no impact on this game with the success of Slovis, this can’t become a trend if USC wants to win the Pac-12 Championship. Slovis and the passing game is great but being one-dimensional is a recipe that rarely works at a high level. They need to free up the running lanes and if they do, the passing game and play-action game can become that much more deadly.
After forcing five turnovers in their last game at Utah, the USC defense continues to improve after struggling against the Arizona schools with three turnovers and holding WSU to only 13 points, six in the first three quarters. While the offense scored touchdowns on five straight drives in the first half, the defense helped set them up in a great position. On WSU’s first drive, they caused them to turn it over on downs. After forcing a three-and-out, the defense closed the door on the Cougars after USC capitalized to increase the lead to 14 points. Talonoa Hufanga picked up his third interception of the season as he tipped the ball to himself and returned it to the Washington State four-yard line. After USC scored one play later, Olajiah Griffin intercepted another pass from WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura on a slant pass. USC scored four plays later to put away the Cougars 28-0 in the first quarter.
The defense was aggressive all game long and outside of garbage time, USC did not allow the Cougar offense to get into a rhythm. Nick Figueroa was a big reason as to why with three sacks in the game. WSU used three different QBs and only rushed for 73 yards, a dominant display from a defense that struggled to stop the Arizona Wildcats a few weeks ago. They have looked much better and if they can keep playing with this much passion and aggression, the offense may not have to carry them to a Pac-12 Championship.
With the offense and defense dominating this game, the special teams simply needed to not make any major mistakes and that is what they did for the most part. Vaughns chipped in with a 15-yard punt return to give USC good field position on their second touchdown drive. Parker Lewis continued to show promise as he nailed a 48-yard field goal early in the third quarter, but missed a 31-yarder on the next drive. He is a talented kicker but needs to find consistency so the team can rely on him when they need him the most.
USC looks to clinch a berth in their first Pac-12 Championship game as USC heads to Pasadena for their annual showdown with the UCLA Bruins on Saturday.