Photo Credit: John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG
On Friday night at 7:30, No. 5 USC (4-0, 2-0) will travel to Martin Stadium to take on No. 16 Washington State (4-0, 1-0) in a game that will go along way the conference’s playoff viability. The Trojans will bring a struggling passing attack, but an efficient rushing attack, up to the Northwest with them.
Sam Darnold has struggled with turnovers this season — he’s already thrown seven interceptions this season, compared to nine total he threw in ’16 — and the offense has struggled at times. Fortunately for the sophomore quarterback, true freshmen Stephen Carr has been lights out in his first year of division one football. The freshmen from Gardena, Calif. has averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his first four games and he’s been routinely able to separate himself from defenders near the line of scrimmage before hitting the gas pedal. Watch below as he quickly finds the hole against Western Michigan and then takes off once he passes the line of scrimmage.
Credit: Conquest Chronicles
If the Cougars defensive line is unable to control the line of scrimmage, then there is going to be a lot of pressure placed on the linebackers to contain Carr (especially since they’re still getting used to not having Peyton Pelluer leading them).
But if Washington State is able to contain Carr and control the line of scrimmage, than that’s going to put all of the pressure on Darnold; and the sophomore quarterback hasn’t looked that great this season because he’s been trying to force the ball into tighter windows, which he’s admitted in an interview with the Sporting News.
That’s me trying to force things,” Darnold said. “I’m just getting impatient. I’ve just got to let the game come to me and opportunities will present (themselves). It’s just a matter of when. And when they do present themselves, you gotta take advantage of it.”
The key for WSU is going to be to give Frankie Luvu space to get to the quarterback, he hits like a ton of bricks, which will make Darnold more uncomfortable in the pocket. Throughout this season, his biggest mistakes have come when he’s felt pressure and the pocket began to collapse. If the Cougs are able to generate pressure, it could get really tricky for Darnold because his top target (Deontay Burnett) will be potentially playing with a separated shoulder and his No. 2 target (Steven Mitchell) has missed practices for the last two weeks with a groin injury…that means that Carr will probably take on a greater importance passing game than he has yet this season.
Defensively, USC’s secondary hasn’t been the weakness it was last season as they’ve been able to hold quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 49% while only allowing 1.3 touchdowns per game thus far. The reason the Trojans secondary has made such a large jump from last season to this season is because they’re far more experienced and their timing on jumping routes is much better than it used to be. Watch a couple of the interceptions in the below highlight video and notice how the defensive backs are consistently in a position to make a play.
The speed with which Southern California’s defensive backs are able to get into position and make a play is going to be a big challenge for Luke Falk going into this game as this is the most athletically gifted secondary he’ll face until Colorado comes to the Palouse. But the good news for Falk is that the Trojans haven’t faced a pass heavy attack with a veteran quarterback yet…and the Cougs will be able to provide their own set of wrinkles that USC’s defensive backs have yet to see this season.
Southern California will bring pressure early and often in an attempt to rattle an offensive line that’s struggled to keep Falk upright and open up holes for the running game. But that will leave one-on-one match-ups on the freshmen wide receiver Jamire Calvin, which Falk will take full advantage of to try to take some of the pressure off of him. As the defense adapts to the threat Calvin poses, that will leave Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Tavares Martin Jr. in one-on-one match-ups.
Defensively, Washington State will struggle to contain Carr in the first half as the Trojans use their athletically superior offensive line to establish control at the line of scrimmage. But defensive adjustments made at halftime will force USC to rely on Darnold in a shoot out, which will put more pressure on a quarterback that’s already trying to force the ball into tight windows. As a result, the Cougs defensive back field will pick off a couple of passes…including one late to seal the upset win.
No. 5 USC Trojans 28
No. 16 Washington State 31
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Proud alum of Washington State University, crazy sports nut, and drinker of beer.