The Obvious: Like walking on eggshells or in this case COVID-19, it’s anybody’s guess if the No. 17 USC Trojans (3-0, 3-0 Pac-12 South) will actually host the visiting and unranked Washington State Cougars (1-1, 1-1 Pac-12 North) on late Sunday afternoon (4:30 p.m. PST) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a game originally scheduled for Friday night. Former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” In the COVID-19 era, Yogi might say, “It ain’t over until the game is played.”
The Not So Obvious: Here’s a trivia question: Washington State’s record is currently 1-1. Who did the Cougars beat for their lone victory? The answer: WSU opened the season with a 38-28 victory over Oregon State in Corvallis. Ah, yes, the same Oregon State team that recently upset ranked Oregon, 41-38, in Corvallis. The Cougars one loss? WSU lost, 43-29, to Oregon in Pullman, which is the last game (Nov. 14) they played. Following the loss to the Ducks, WSU has had games with Stanford and Washington cancelled due to COVID-19.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 12½ -point favorite to defeat Washington State.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans lead its series with Washington State, which dates back to 1921, 59-10-4 (not including one win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 60-10-4). The Trojans have won 36 of the last 42 meetings (and 42 of the past 49) but have dropped two of the last four after an eight-game winning streak. The Trojans are 39-6-2 versus WSU in Los Angeles (not including one win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 40-6-2). The Cougars have lost 29 of the last 33 in L.A.
The Obvious: Sunday afternoon’s game from Los Angeles will be televised on FS1 (4:30 p.m. PST/7:30 p.m. EST)
The Not So Obvious: The FS1 broadcasters will be Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Petros Papadakis (analyst).
The Obvious: Sunday afternoon’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast will air live on KABC 790AM (4:30 p.m. PST) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody and John Jackson (analysts) and Jordan Moore (sidelines).
The Trojans’ overall KABC 790AM broadcast will begin with a two-hour pregame show at 2:30 p.m. (PST). The pregame broadcast crew will also include Sam Farber and former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.
The pregame show will also be simulcasted on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). The simulcast, called the Trojans Tailgate Show, will also feature performances by the USC Song Girls, Trojans Marching Band, Spirit Leaders, and will also provide viewers with fan involvement, which will also include prizes courtesy of the USC Athletic Department.
The Not So Obvious: The Washington State broadcast (4:30 p.m. PST) can be heard on local flagship stations KHTR (Pullman) FM104.3 and KXLY (Spokane) AM920 with Matt Chazanow calling the play-by-play, former Cougars quarterback Alex Brink providing analysis, and Jessamyn McIntyre covering the sidelines.
Sunday afternoon’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio and on the Tunein Radio app.
The Obvious: This is Week 5 of the conference-only 2020 Pac-12 schedule.
The Not So Obvious: Below is this week’s Pac-12 schedule, television channels, and kickoff times.
Saturday, Dec. 5
Stanford at Washington (1 p.m./FOX)
Colorado at Arizona (4 p.m./FS1)
Oregon at Cal (4 p.m./ESPN)
Oregon State at Utah (7:30 p.m./ESPN)
UCLA at ASU (7:30 p.m./FS1)
Sunday, Dec. 6
Washington State at USC (4:30 p.m. PST/ FS1)
Note: All times above are Pacific Time.
The Obvious: Sunday’s Los Angeles weather forecast calls for mostly sunny with a high of 71 degrees, a low of 49 degrees, 24% humidity, and 0% precipitation. Temperature for the 4:30 p.m. (PST) kickoff is expected to be sunny and 65 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans missing the Colorado game due to the virus and its ensuing protocol will play and have a major impact on Sunday against WSU. We’ll find out whether any of the Trojans position groups have been affected by COVID-19. It was reported earlier that members of the Trojans’ offensive line were struggling with the virus or some had been quarantined. The Trojans need seven available scholarship offensive linemen to play, so there remains intrigue to see who is available. WSU has had its own COVID-19 challenges, having its last two games (Stanford and Washington) cancelled. We’ll also ascertain whether the Trojans are a little too confident of their 12 ½ – point favorite status over WSU, and we all know the Trojans Clay Helton history in being big favorites.
We’ll see whether USC’s offense, Top 25 nationally in total and passing yards per game and directed by QB Kedon Slovis, can take advantage of a suspect WSU defense. We’ll see whether the Trojans wide receivers, considered among the nation’s finest, can do damage to the Cougars’ secondary. Trojans wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns (both in USC’s Top 20 career receiving list) along with two-sporter Drake London and Bru McCoy will probably again see a virtual eight-man secondary – again.
The Trojans offensive line will also again take centerstage in whether they can not only keep Slovis healthy but also create some sort of running game. The Trojans have the running backs if USC OC Graham Harrell shows a commitment to using them. Whether the Trojans utilize their stable of backs like Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai, Markese Stepp,and speedy Kenan Christon will at the very least be either interesting or frustrating. Two weekends ago at Utah, the Trojans had just 93 yards rushing with Malepeai leading all Trojan rushers with 62 net yards and one touchdown.
Whether this defensive edition of WSU can withstand the Trojans Air Raid offense remains to be seen, but the Cougars’ defense is led by senior FS Daniel Isom (16 tac, 1 dfl in 2020) and senior ILB Jahad Woods (16 tac, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 1 dfl, 1 FF in 2020), WSU’s tackle leaders. It figures the Trojans’ offense should theoretically be able to put plenty of points on the board, but haven’t we said that before?
Not knowing if any of the USC starters are on the defensive side of the football will have COVID implications, we’ll see whether the Trojans can continue to force turnovers. Two weeks ago, DC Todd Orlando’s unit had five takeaways at Utah. However, consider that the WSU offense will be the first team the Trojans will have played this season that actually has played a game before facing the Men of Troy.
We’ll find out how the WSU run-and-shoot offense deals with the Trojans’ stud safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao, DL Marlon Tuipulotu, ILB Kana’i Mauga, who had an outstanding game at Utah, plus impressive young players like OLB Drake Jackson, ILB Ralen Goforth and DL Tuli Tuipulotu (Marlon’s brother). However, Goforth is questionable (foot sprain) and could be replaced by Raymond Scott, who has taken his opportunity to play and has been effective. It also appears that while still improving starting inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote is still out with concussion protocol.
The WSU offense has been surprisingly effective, and we’ll find out how the Trojans defense will challenge the Cougs’ run-and-shoot offense. Freshman QB Jayden de Laura, the first Cougar frosh signalcaller to start a season opener, has played beyond his years. Senior RB Deon McIntosh, who is 10th nationally in rushing (119.5), has filled in capably for injured all-star RB Max Borghi (817 rushing yards with 11 TDs in 2019 and 86 receptions for 597 yards with 5 TDs). It’s questionable if Borghi will play on Sunday, but he is one of the best backs in the conference. WRs senior Renard Bell (16 rec, 218 yds, 13.6 avg, 1 TD in 2020) and junior Travell Harris (16 rec, 201 yds, 12.6 avg, 2 TD in 2020) are both eighth in the nation in receptions, while Bell is 12th in receiving yards and Harris is ninth in all-purpose running.
Not knowing if the withheld USC starters are on the special teams, in the battle of special teams, we’ll see whether Trojans strong-legged freshman PK Parker Lewis, who nailed four field goals at Utah (one shy of the USC record) and had none of his eight kickoffs returned, continues to be a major weapon as is sophomore punter Ben Griffiths (45.6), who continues to impress. WSU will counter with redshirt senior punter Oscar Draguicevich lll (48.6 avg.), who ranked second nationally last season, and redshirt junior placekicker Blake Mazza (4 of 4 FGs./ long 49 yds.) was a 2019 All-Pac-12 first teamer.
The Obvious: In 2020,the Trojans offense is averaging 31.67 points per game, while the WSU defense is allowing 35.5 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: WSU’s offense is averaging 33.5 points per game while the Trojans’ defense is allowing 24.67 points per contest.
The Obvious: Clay Helton is in his fifth season as the Trojans’ head coach (43-22) and is currently 16-12 in his last 28 games.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding WSU, Helton said, “I thought Washington State did a great job when they hired “Rolo” (Nick Rolovich). After losing coach Leach, they really found somebody that fit system-wise. Offensively, the personnel, the systems are different (from Mike Leach). Rolo’s system is different than Mike’s, but I will say this, he does the same philosophy in using 10 personnel and a four-wides package, spreading you out across the field, attacking every inch of the field. Whether it’s vertically or horizontally, or in between the tackles with the run game, they’re doing a really nice job. When he got the job, I think we all said in the league, man, this is going to be a pain in the butt. It all starts with quarterback Jayden de Laura, a kid we recruited out of Hawaii, who we have a lot of respect for. He’s got the ‘it’ factor; he’s a winner. He makes creative plays and has a talented arm.
“Defensively, the two kids I really like are Daniel Isom (and Jahad Woods). They’ll play two-high coverage and then they’ll roll that safety down into the box and play Cover 3 or Cover 1 and Daniel is doing a nice job of playing that hybrid safety. Jahad Woods, their redshirt senior linebacker, has a lot of experience, and I know him well. He’s produced a lot of plays in this league, and he’s a senior with a lot of experience and leading them in tackles.”
The Obvious: Nick Rolovich, who is the former head coach at Hawaii,is in his first season as WSU’s first-year head coach.
The Not So Obvious: Under Mike Leach at WSU, the Cougars defense got to see a lot of the Air Raid offense every day in offense, but will that be of help in preparing for the Trojans? Rolovich said, “I think it’s (USC) got a good amount that’s different, a lot more 11 and 12 personnel sometimes. You’re seeing, hmm, it’s not all completely like they’re (WSU defense) used to going against in practice. The concepts show up, but there is more variety in USC’s offense, in my opinion. I am sure some of the concepts look familiar, but there’s enough that’s different in that they need to prepare, so they’re not as comfortable as what they would be seeing last year.”
The Obvious: It’s rare that the Trojans are playing a Sunday game.
The Not So Obvious: In its history, Troy has played only four games on a Sunday, going 2-2: the 1993 opener versus North Carolina in the Disneyland Pigskin Classic (USC lost, 31-9), the 1996 opener against Penn State in the Kickoff Classic (USC lost, 24-7), the 1998 opener versus Purdue in the Pigskin Classic (USC won, 27-17) and the 2000 opener versus Penn State in the Kickoff Classic (USC won 29-5).
The Obvious: Last week’s USC game against Colorado was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans only other modern-day in-season game cancellation involved Stanford in 1924.
The Obvious: The Trojans will start sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis (6-2, 200).
The Not So Obvious: Rumors and evaluations continue to swirl over the health of Slovis’s arm, but he has been nails with the game on the line. Despite all the scrutiny, Kedon still continues to top the country in completions and ranks in the Top 12 in passing yards, completion percentage (nearly 71%) and total offense.
The Obvious: The starting quarterback for WSU is true freshman Jayden de Laura (43-of-72, 59.7%, 548 yds, 4 TDs, 1 int., plus 16 tcb, 70 yds, 3.4 avg, 1 TD), who is one of the WSU players that was in COVID-19 isolation during the Cougs’ cancelled games.
The Not So Obvious: Jayden attended St. Louis High School in Honolulu, where he was on a two-time state champion team. As a senior, he led SLHS to its fourth-straight HHSAA Open Division title with a 12-0 record and was named a High School All-American by MaxPreps and Gatorade Hawaii Player of the Year. Jayden was the 12th Gatorade Hawaii POY in SLHS history. His uncle, Mel de Laura, played wide receiver at Hawaii.
The Obvious: Both the Trojans and Washington State live off their passing attacks.
The Not So Obvious: Sunday’s game will feature the Pac-12’s top four receiving leaders. WSU’s Renard Bell and Travell Harris are the top two in the conference with 109 and 100 receiving yards per game, respectively, while USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London are Nos. 3 and 4 with 88 and 79 yards per game.
The Obvious: It’s rare that Washington State beats the Trojans.
The Not So Obvious: Washington State’s last three victories over USC have come on late field goals: PK Drew Dunning’s 35-yarder in the first overtime in 2002 for a 30-27 win (he also hit another 35-yarder with 1:50 to play to get the game into overtime), PK Andrew Furney’s 41-yarder with 3:03 to play in 2013 for a 10-7 win and PK Erik Powell’s 32-yarder with 1:40 to play in 2017 for a 30-27 win.
The Obvious: Trojan WR Tyler Vaughns is currently tied for fifth on USC’s career receptions list (207).
The Not So Obvious: Ironically,Tyler is tied with his current position coach, Keary Colbert.
The Obvious: In the last generation, more and more USC games are being played in early evenings or later.
The Not So Obvious: This will be the Trojans’ 17th night game against Washington State. The only Pac-12 team that the Trojans have played more times under the lights is Oregon State (24).
The Obvious: The Trojans have one player on their roster from the state of Washington, offensive lineman Caadyn Stephen from Camas High.
The Not So Obvious: WSU has 39 Californians on its 2020 roster.
The Obvious: And finally, in this COVID-19 delayed Pac-12 season, the Trojans enter the month of December and will play three games if the virus doesn’t say otherwise. Those games would be Washington State, UCLA, and the Pac-12’s Championship Weekend. A possible fourth December game could be a bowl invitation.
The Not So Obvious: For the record, the Trojans have a 42-29-7 (.583) all-time record while playing in the month of December (not including two wins vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 44-29-7, .594).