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O/NSO: Washington State edition

The Obvious from Los Angeles: Two unranked Pac-12 teams, the USC Trojans (1-2, 0-1 Pac-12) and the undefeated Washington State Cougars (3-0, 0-0 Pac 12), will do battle in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Friday night (7:30 p.m. PDT), and the Trojans cannot afford a second conference loss, having already had one lemon two weeks ago at Stanford. For Washington State, who will be playing its first conference game, it’s a chance to show that their 3-0 record against lesser competition is a precursor to bigger goals.

The Not So Obvious: The Clay Helton-and-staff coaching hot heat has been turned on after not-close, back-to-back road losses to Stanford and Texas. While both losses weren’t totally unexpected, the manner in which the Men of Troy succumbed was deeply disturbing. For some, it brought back memories of the Paul Hackett era (1998-2000) – both in play and rhetoric. However, now it’s back to Pac-12 play and the Men of Troy have a chance to snap out of it and certainly can’t afford a second conference loss. One thing the O/NSO knows: Washington State head coach Mike Leach is an excellent coach, has a proven offensive system and improving defensive strategy, is a superior strategist, and who can forget when the eccentric one came to L.A. in 2013 with “lesser” talent and shocked the Trojans 10-6. The loss foreshadowed Trojans’ head coach Lane Kiffin’s firing some three games later in the infamous LAX tarmac nighttime episode. Don’t expect Helton to be relieved ala Kiffin, but then again, a loss wouldn’t be exactly a foundational step forward for job security.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 4 ½ favorite to defeat undefeated Washington State.

The Not So Obvious: The Cougars are returning to the Coliseum for the first time since the aforementioned 2013 game. The Trojans lifetime record against Washington State is 58-10-4. The Trojans have won their past 17 games in the Coliseum and have a 12-game home winning streak over Pac-12 teams. WSU has only beaten the Trojans 10 times in the last 72 efforts, and its past three wins came on late field goals.

The Obvious: Friday night’s game will be televised on ESPN (7:30 p.m. PT/ 10:30 p.m. ET).

The Not So Obvious: The ESPN broadcasters for Friday night will be Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Greg McElroy ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­(analyst) and Tom Luginbill (sidelines).

The Obvious: Friday night’s Trojans’ radio broadcast from the Coliseum will air live (7:30 p.m. PT) on ESPNLA 710 AM with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans radio game broadcast will be preceded by a four-hour pregame show beginning at 3:30 p.m. (PDT) and featuring Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Andy Kamenetsky, Chris Hale, Nick Alfano, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.

The Not So Obvious: The Washington State broadcast can be heard on flagship station KHTR 104.3 FM with Matt Chazanow (play-by-play), Alex Brink and Bob Robertson (analysts) and Jessamyn McIntyre (sidelines). There is also a national ESPN radio broadcast with Bill Rosinski (play by play) and David Norrie (analyst), and Ian Fitzsimmons (sidelines).

Friday night’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channels 78/197 or online channel 959 and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: Friday’s Los Angeles weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 81 – 72 degrees at kickoff – and a low of 62 degrees, 0 percent humidity, and 61 percent precipitation.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether Clay Helton’s USC Trojans can emotionally and physically bounce back from consecutive losses on the road and be physically, mentally, and emotional ready to go in a short week of practice is up in the air. You can also toss in whether the Trojans are ready with distractions such as a Friday night game, negative fan reaction after the two back-to-back road defeats, and a possible sharp Coliseum attendance shortage due to a Friday night game that is being nationally televised is anybody’s guess.

Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans can AGAIN try and establish a running game. Clay Helton says this week they committed a lot of “resources” during this week’s practice, so we’ll find out whether all the time translate to Friday night. The Trojans offensive line has been fairly criticized as has O-line coach Neil Callaway who is now in his third season as the offensive line mentor. We’ll see whether being back in the Coliseum against a Washington State defense – which has a new coordinator – has any impact at all. We’ll also find out whether there is any offense progress when the Trojans enter inside an opponent’s 40-yard line. So far, it’s been underwhelming as only two touchdowns in the last eight quarters of football would attest. The big question will be whether QB JT Daniels can take the Trojans to touchdowns instead of field goals given the “unbalanced” offense. If the Trojans put their eggs on the right arm of the gifted freshman, we’ll see whether the Washington State chooses to try and take away the Trojans most reliable receiver, true freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown, who like Daniels, is mostly living up to the preseason hype. With senior tailback Aca-Cedric Ware’s knee a question, we’ll find out if this is the week that sophomore Stephen Carr gets the start.

Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense can limit the high-powered air attack of Mike Leach’s system. Because Leach has a system, it doesn’t seem to matter who is at quarterback because the Cougs “do what they do” on offense. The Trojans will need better play from their secondary, and we’ll see whether Leach direct his passing game at the young Trojan safeties and senior veteran Ajene Harris, who has been the target lately of opponent’s airborne strategy. Of course, a lot of the WSU passing game can be negated if the Trojans’ front rush can get to Wassu grad transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew ll. We’ll see whether Trojans’ DC Clancy Pendergast chooses to attack the quarterback or drop 8 men back.

On Trojans’ special teams, which has been anything but special lately, we’ll find out whether inexperienced sophomore placekicker Michael Brown can adequately replace experienced sophomore kicker Chase McGrath whose season ended prematurely after suffering an ACL injury at Texas. Ironically, Brown missed the 2017 with an ACL. We’ll see whether the Trojans punting issues have been addressed and whether special teams coach John Baxter decides on going with a single punter, Chris Tilbey or Reid Budrovich, on Friday. And we’ll find out whether the Trojans field goal kicking team can prevent another blocking disaster like the one that led to a Teas blocked field goal attempt, which Texas turned into a touchdown and an injured kicker.

The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense is averaging 20.0 points per game while the Washington State defense is allowing 14.3 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans’ defense is allowing 25.0 points per game while the Washington State offense is averaging 43.7 points per game.

The Obvious: Trojans’ OC Tee Martin is under the gun for his offense’s inability to score touchdowns and red zone difficulties.

The Not So Obvious: With a new Washington State defensive coordinator, Martin was asked to compare last season’s Cougars’ defense and this season’s edition. Tee said, “They have a different coordinator, but some things they have carried over from a year ago, the defensive line from one stem look to another. They want to create confusion and miscommunication stuff like that. They’re active and very athletic and have a very experienced secondary. Their safety got Defensive Player of the Week (Jalen Thompson) last week. It’s going to be a challenge to have balance this week coming off last week when we didn’t run it like we want to. We need to establish that kind of balance this week. Their scheme is similar to Texas.”

The Obvious: Mike Leach is in his 6th season as the Washington State head coach.

The Not So Obvious: This is the second season in a row that WSU has opened with three consecutive victories. The Cougars eccentric head coach may do more with less than any team in the conference. After last season, there were strong rumors that Leach might be headed to the University of Tennessee, but that didn’t come to fruition. It was Mike’s team last season dealt the Trojans a lethal CFP loss in Pullman, and to this day Clay Helton laments publicly that that the defeat in the Palouse Country probably cost the Trojans and Sam Darnold a chance to compete for a national championship. That won’t happen this season, but an upset of the Trojans in L.A. could be a mortal blow down road to any thoughts of the Trojans repeating as Pac-12 South Division champs.

The Obvious: Besides the mostly excellent play by true freshman quarterback JT Daniels, a main strength of the Trojans are running backs Aca’Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr, and Vavae Malepeai.

The Not So Obvious: Speaking of running backs, Washington State has a productive running back in junior James Williams (4.3 avg., 4 TDs), his team’s leading rusher and is in the national Top 10 in scoring.

The Obvious: The starting quarterback for Washington State is Gardner Minshew ll, a grad transfer from Eastern Carolina.

The Not So Obvious: There was conjecture that before Minshew (117 of 165, 70.9%, 1,203, 8 TDs, 3 int.) decided on Washington State this season, he was strongly considering Alabama. Minshew leads the nation in total offense and passing yards in leading an offense that “averages” 500 total yards a game (421 coming through the air).

The Obvious: Clancy Pendergast is the Trojans’ defensive coordinator.  

The Not So Obvious: Asked about the new Washington State quarterback and the Cougars offense, Pendergast says, “I think he’s a very talented player. He obviously is a transfer, and he looks like he’s played in the system a lot. He distributes the ball all over the field, and I think he has really grown within the system. In the three games he’s played, he’s grown every single week. They’ve had a very productive offense, and this one is no different. It’s the same system that they’ve run over the course of time he has been at Washington State and Texas Tech, that’s Coach Leach, and it’s the same as 2013 when I coached here. It’s very similar and they use all the field in the passing game. They get a lot of receivers out on routes, and it’s really basketball on grass.”

The Obvious: The Trojans have no players from the state of Washington.

The Not So Obvious: Washington State has 45 players from California.

The Obvious: Trojan fans are not exactly thrilled with Friday night games and have expressed that with reduced attendance.

The Not So Obvious: Friday’s game will mark the 16th night game against Washington State. The only Pac-12 team that the Trojans have played more times at night is Oregon State (24).

The Obvious: Steve Spurrier is one of college football’s all-time players and coaches.

The Not So Obvious: Washington State wide receivers’ coach is Steve Spurrier Jr.

The Obvious: It figures that Friday night’s kickoff in downtown Los Angeles will just add to the rush hour traffic issues and the parking challenges in and around the Coliseum and the University, which will still be in classroom session on Friday.

The Not So Obvious: A reminder regarding the parking issues for Friday night’s game, according to the University release, “Fans without parking passes are encouraged to park on the USC campus and walk through Exposition Park to the Coliseum. Available campus parking lots open at 5:30 pm for $25 and are available on a first-come, first-served basis until full. Coliseum lots will be open at 4pm. Please click below for a map of on campus lots that are only available to existing parking pass holders. Please also note: left turns into parking structures will not be permitted on game days. Please plan your route accordingly.

“Due to classes in session, there will be no tailgating on campus. This includes the set-up of tents, chairs, tables, and/or picnic blankets for the purpose of serving meals or drinks – will be permitted on University Park Campus or at USC Village.”

The Obvious: USC has an enrollment listed at 45,000 students.

The Not So Obvious: Washington State has an enrollment listed at 30,614 students.

The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans’ athletic department will recognize a number of people during the game for their past and present university achievements.

The Not So Obvious: Being honored during the game will be USC’s 2018 NCAA champion women’s water polo team and the 2018 Trojan men’s and women’s swimming NCAA individual champs (Louise Hanssonin the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard medley relay team of Robert Glinta, Carsten Vissering, Dylan Carter, and Santo Condorelli).

 



Greg Katz
Author
Greg Katz

Now in his 58th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football staff writer covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.


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