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Opponent preview: Washington State Cougars

Washington State will not have played a game in 22 days when the Cougars kick off Sunday’s matchup against the USC Trojans, but Washington State has already shown flashes of being a much better team than anticipated this season, beating Oregon State to open the season and going toe-to-toe with Oregon for more than three quarters.

Washington State is yet another opponent on USC’s 2020 schedule with brand new coordinators on both sides of the ball, as now three of USC’s four opponents have changed at least one coordinator from last season. The Cougars are also led by a new head coach, as Nick Rolovich comes to the Palouse after spending the last eight years — four as head coach — at Hawaii.

Washington State has been dealing with Covid issues for the past few weeks, but Rolovich said this week he expects to travel 74 players, as the Cougars should have just about everybody — if not absolutely everybody — back and ready for the game against the Trojans.

Washington State offense

It’s no longer Mike Leach’s pure Air Raid, but Rolovich’s Run-N-Shoot offense is not unrelated. The Cougars will spread the field and are pretty consistently in a four-wide receiver look with one running back. This is still a pass-first offense, as Washington State’s 274 passing yards per game ranks 30th overall and 3rd in the Pac-12. But the Cougars have run for 164.5 yards per game on the ground, good for 7th in the conference and a far cry from their usual last-place finish in that category. As a result, Washington State’s 438.5 ranks 4th in the conference and 36th in the nation, and the Cougars’ 33.5 points per game is 4th in the Pac-12 as well, and 32nd overall.

Quarterback

#4 Jayden de Laura – 6-0, 195 – FR

True freshman Jayden de Laura was one of the quarterbacks USC made a late push for in the 2020 recruiting class after losing a commitment from Bryce Young. He’s grabbed the starting spot at Washington State and put together two very good performances. He’s completed nearly 60% of his passes and has thrown for 274 yards per game with four touchdowns against just one interception. He’s also a major threat on the ground, but in the RPO game as well as scrambling on pass plays. He’s run 16 times for 70 yards and a touchdown and the Trojans will need to account for him in that regard.

Running back

#3 Deon McIntosh – 6-0, 190 – RS SR

There’s a small chance that Washington State could get Max Borghi back this week, as he’s returned to practice after an injury sidelined him for the first two games. But more than likely it will be McIntosh carrying the load again for Washington State. The former Notre Dame running back ranks among the top ten in the nation in both rushing yards per game (119.5) and yards per carry (7.0). He’s carried the ball 34 times for 239 yards and two touchdowns this season. USC’s defensive line will need to rise to the challenge against McIntosh as the Trojans likely won’t be able to dedicate members of the secondary into the box because of the wide open passing game.

Wide receiver

#9 Renard Bell – 5-8, 161 – RS SR
#1 Travell Harris – 5-9, 180 – RS JR
#6 Jamire Calvin – 5-10, 160 – RS JR
#82 Lucas Bacon – 6-2, 202 – RS SO

This isn’t a receiver group with a dominant player, but there’s quickness that will test the USC defensive backs. Bell and Harris have been the go-to receivers through two games, as each has 16 receptions. Bell has 218 yards and a touchdown, while Harris has 201 yards and two scores. The USC secondary will need to stay buttoned up, as this offense can live on the quick passing game and then look for something over the top.

Offensive line

LT #63 Liam Ryan – 6-5, 300 – RS SR
LG #52 Jarrett Kingston – 6-5, 296 – RS SO
C #50 Brian Greene – 6-3, 300 – RS JR
RG #65 Josh Watson – 6-4, 285 – RS SR
RT #72 Abraham Lucas – 6-7, 328 – RS JR

USC’s defensive front played well against Utah, but that was a very young and inexperienced group for the Utes. This is a veteran crew that has embraced the opportunity to do a little more run blocking in this offense. Still, it’s a group that USC’s defensive front should be able to match up against. The Cougars have allowed just two sacks in two games this season and have been fairly good on third downs, converting 44% of their opportunities, good for 40th overall.

Washington State defense

The Cougars have played against a couple of good offenses in Oregon and Oregon State and they’ve been gashed all over the place. Washington State ranks last in the Pac-12 and 107th overall in scoring defense, 8th in the conference and 96th overall in rush defense, 11th in the conference and 125th overall in pass defense, and 11th in the conference and 123rd overall in total defense. The Beavers and Ducks averaged 516 total yards per game and 7.1 yards per play against the Cougars.

Defensive line

DE #10 Ron Stone Jr. – 6-3, 234 – RS SO
DT #48 Amir Mujahid – 6-3, 278 – JR
DT #98 Dallas Hobbs – 6-6, 285 – RS JR
DE #80 Brennan Jackson – 6-4, 249 – RS JR

Opponents have rushed for 5.8 yards per carry against this group, and have converted 58% of their third-down opportunities. Washington State does have five sacks in two games and a majority of the pressure has come from the edge rushers. Jackson leads the front with 2.5 tackles for loss

Linebacker

#13 Jahad Woods – 6-1, 230 – RS SR
#37 Justus Rogers – 6-2, 232 – RS SR

This is the strength of the defense, as Woods and Rogers have each played in 41 games. Woods leads the defense by a huge margin with 304 career tackles and is tied for the team lead with 16 stops and three tackles for loss this season. He’s likely on one of the key guys USC needs to account for in order to get a run game established.

Defensive back

NB #8 Armani Marsh – 5-10, 177 – RS JR
CB #12 Jaylen Watson – 6-3, 190 – RS JR
CB #13 George Hicks III – 6-0, 177 – SR
FS #3 Daniel Isom – 6-0, 199 – RS SR
#36 Ayden Hector – 6-0, 203 – FR

Isom is tied for the team lead with 16 tackles, while true freshman Hector made a huge impact for the Cougars against Oregon, recovering two fumbles and intercepting a pass. Those are the only three takeaways for Washington State this season. There’s a familiar face in Jaylen Watson, who committed to USC out of junior college but wound up at Washington State after he didn’t enroll at USC. Hector similarly was headed to Stanford before ultimately walking on at Washington State. It won’t be surprising to see this group drop into a deep zone look and make USC beat them with short passes underneath.

Washington State special teams

The Cougars have kicked well this season but haven’t done much yet when it comes to returns.

Kicker

#40 Blake Mazza – 5-9, 183 – RS JR

Mazza is a very solid kicker, having made 34 of his 40 career attempts, including a career long of 51 yards. Half of those six misses have been blocked. He’s connected on all four of his attempts this season, with a long of 49 yards.

Punter

#94 Oscar Draguicevich III – 6-0, 182 – RS JR

Draguicevich is averaging 48.6 yards on eight punts this season. That average is helped by a 78-yard punt this season, but he’s still averaging more than 45 yards per punt in his career. The Cougars have done well to cover his punts as well, as opponents have just eight yards on two punt returns this season.

Kick/Punt returner

#1 Travell Harris – 5-9, 180 – RS JR

There’s been nothing doing for Washington State on kickoff returns this season, as Harris is averaging just 16.6 yards on five returns, with a long of 21 yards. Harris does have a 100-yard kick return in his career. Washington State doesn’t have a punt return this season




Author
Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.


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