WSU shows its fans there is no ceiling, upends No. 5 USC

Washington State announced its presence in the CFP race with an epic 30-27 upset win over No. 5 USC.

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Photo Credit: Daily Trojan

No. 5 USC (4-1, 2-1) suffered its first loss of the season to No. 16 Washington State (5-0, 2-0) after Sam Darnold fumbled the ball on the Trojans final possession of the game.

Washington State marched down the field on eight plays thanks to precision passes by quarterback Luke Falk and a dominating presence by the Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Kyle Sweet. Kicker Eric Powell kicked the game winning 44-yard field goal with a 1:40 left in the game.

On the second play of the Trojans’ ensuing drive, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch dialed up a linebacker blitz and the ball popped loose. Washington State dived on the ball to clinch an upset victory over No. 5 USC at home.

Tyler Vaughns would come up huge for the Trojans in the early part of the fourth quarter; first he hauled in a 14-yard pass to convert on fourth and 13, then he caught a 21-yard corner route that was just short of the end zone. The fourth down conversion that Vaughn caught was just superior athleticism on a high pass, while the 21-yarder happened because the defense wasn’t set before the Trojans snapped the ball. Darnold would scamper into the end zone from one yard out to tie the game at 27 midway through the final quarter.

The Cougs’ offensive line would start to take over the game on their first drive of the fourth quarter, that started in the third; their defining moment came on a go-ahead touchdown pass to put WSU 27-20. Falk hit Morrow with a shovel pass near the line of scrimmage, but the offensive line opened up a huge hole for the running back to race through on his way to the end zone. It was a big boy drive that confirmed that these Cougs were ready for primetime.

After a terrible series, that started on their own two-yard line, the Cougs punted the ball to their own 27-yard line. Southern California would take over but wouldn’t be able to move the ball against the aggressive Speed D and the Trojans were forced to kick a 29-yard field goal to tie the game at 20 towards the end of the third quarter.

Darnold was clearly rattled in the second half, as he made several short sighted decision and he got luck as the passes bounced in complete. On third and eight the offensive line kept the pocket fairly intact, but the sophomore panicked and ran towards the edges of the pocket which gave WSU’s defensive ends a chance to put real pressure on him and led to a terrible shovel pass that fell in complete.

While the Trojans were stuffed on their first drive of the second half — WSU’s defense was aided by a badddddd OPI call on second down — and they were forced to punt the ball. One the following drive, Falk quickly guided the Cougs into the red zone; but the offense was unable to make space inside the twenty and Powell came on for his second field goal of the game.

Morrow would pick up the Cougs first rushing touchdown of the game when he bounced outside of the tackle then crossed the goal line to tie the game at 17 with 13 seconds left in the first half. The touchdown came at the end of a 12 play, 94-yard drive that chewed up 4:43 of the clock. There were a couple questionable penalties that added some extra yards onto plays — including a 15-yard pass interference penalty that put WSU on the two — but those penalties weren’t the reason the Cougs marched down the field; it was a physical drive that saw Williams and Morrow assert their will over the Trojans defense.

Ronald Jones II ripped off a 86-yard touchdown run when the offensive line opened up a huge hole and there was no WSU defenders in the area to retake the lead. The run came on a third and five play where the Cougars’ Speed D had clogged up the line of scrimmage and shut down Southern California’s offensive attack…until it didn’t.

Falk would get picked off on the Cougs first play after the touchdown, when the defensive lineman would pick off a pass that he batted down at the line on the Washington State two-yard line. WSU’s defense would step up and stuff the Trojans’ offensive attack on three straight plays to force a field goal, including a dropped interception that could have gone for six. USC would have a 17-10 lead with just under ten minutes to go in the first half.

Falk would find the end zone on a play-action bubble screen to Martin Jr. that would be carried 28-yards to the house. The touchdown drive would be set-up by a 61-yard bomb to Renard Bell, Washington State’s longest play of the season thus far, to get the Cougars into Trojans’ territory. It was a quick drive that shows what makes the Air Raid so dangerous when the quarterback takes down field, and it gave Washington State a 10-7 lead.

Darnold would continue to struggle when he under threw a hook-route that defensive back Sean Harper Jr. jumped to force Washington State’s first turnover of the game. The Cougars’ wideouts would drop two sure first downs on to force a punt, which would pin Southern California at their seven-yard line.

WSU’s defense would struggle to tackle on Southern California’s second drive early on, especially on a 24-yard catch and run by Tyler Vaughns. Fortunately the defense would buckle down after Vaughn’s catch to force a punt.

On the ensuing drives, both teams would swap drives where both offenses picked up first downs then both defenses buckled down to force a punt. On their drive, the Trojans would try a flea flicker but the Cougars defense blew it up to force Darnold out of the pocket where he’d throw the ball out of grounds..and get flagged for intentional grounding to put Southern Cal in second and 24.

On the Cougs first drive, Falk scrambled outside of the pocket during a third and down play to find Jamire Calvin in the back of the end zone but the freshman wideout dropped the pass that hit both of his hands. Powell’s kick would sale through the uprights to give Washington State an early 3-0 lead. The 44-yard field goal capped off a drive that started off with the Air Raid shredding the Trojans’ defense with intermediate and short passes, including a 14-yard run by Jamal Morrow; but the offense short circuited after Falk was sacked to force the Cougs into that third and ten play.

The Trojans would respond with a crisp 10-play 75-yard drive to take a 7-3 lead on a Darnold four-yard touchdown run off of the zone read. On the play prior to his touchdown run, Washington State’s defense generated pressure but the sophomore quarterback escaped the pocket, and juked a would be tackler, to pick up the first down. It was a physically imposing drive that really showcased the size and athleticism of the Trojans offensive line, especially on a couple of the big running plays.

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  1. […] former Heisman hopeful quarterback had an awful night on the Palouse as (then ranked) No. 5 USC fell to (then ranked) No. 16 Washington State. Sam Darnold looked bad, but what was even worse news for the quarterback was the loss of two […]

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