Washington State Wrap-Up
The Trojan victory over the Cougars on Saturday completes a perfect September, while also establishing some firsts. It was the first convincing win over a season opponent, after spending the first three weeks simply outlasting less talented foes. It is also the first time USC has advanced in the AP Poll, moving forward two places from 20th to 18th, and ending three weeks of decline and face palming by unimpressed voters. With a perfect start to the 2010 campaign, Lane Kiffin also became the first coach since 1951 to begin his USC tenure 4-0.
Not since Jess Hill in 1951 had a coach began his career in Southern California by winning his first four games. The 50-16 defeat of Washington State allowed Kiffin to equal the achievement, but the schedule definitely gave him an assist.
The first four opponents, Hawaii, Virginia, Minnesota and Washington State, combine for a season record of 6-9, but more importantly, they are 0-5 versus teams from automatic qualifying conferences. 5 of the 6 opponent victories also come by way of FCS sweeteners, with the sixth being Hawaii’s narrow escape of Army. In 2001, Pete Carroll began his USC tenure with a 1-4 mark, before righting the ship and steering the program in the proper direction. But Pete’s was a low calorie diet, in comparison to the sugary sweets on Lane’s September menu.
Although there was talk of Washington State being much improved from a year ago, there was never any doubt going into this game that the Trojans would leave Pullman with a “W”. The pregame Cougar hype proved to be inaccurate. Saturday’s opponent hasn’t taken steps forward, as much as it has regressed. In a funeral like atmosphere, the crowd (if you can call it that) of a little more than 24,000 watched the home team get buried, and it didn’t take much effort.
USC entered with an unsettled backfield, and really didn’t find an answer. Allen Bradford led all tailbacks with 84 rushing yards, but in this funeral procession, it was the fullback, Stanley Havili driving the lead vehicle.
Havili started the game in the backfield, and finished with 191 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. The senior took the first snap from scrimmage and rumbled 59 yards for the Trojans’ first score. The second possession saw Havili take a Barkley pass 58 yards to the Washington State 18 yard line, a drive that ended with Robert Woods touchdown reception. Rated as the top fullback in the nation on many NFL draft boards, Havili racked up 80 yards rushing and led the Trojans with 107 receiving yards.
Matt Barkley didn’t have the best of games, though he did finish with 290 yards passing and three touchdowns. He was often off target in the first half, and his two interceptions came on ill-advised tosses. Barkley has now thrown a pair of picks in each of the last two games, and all coming against poor secondaries.
The unit that was desperately in need of a lift was the Trojan defense, especially a secondary that ranked 110th in the country entering Saturday’s game. After being picked on, and struggling mightily in the first three games, the defensive backs came up big in Pullman, picking off Jeff Tuel three times, and limiting an offense determined to dink and dunk its way downfield. Freshman Nickell Robey intercepted two of those passes, returning the first 25 yards for a USC touchdown. T.J. McDonald ended a Cougar threat in the second quarter, by picking off a Tuel pass at the Trojans 16. It was McDonald’s second INT on the season.
With the 50 points on the board, USC has now outscored Washington State 293-36 in the last four meetings. Pullman was the last stop on the bakery trail. Beginning with Washington next week, the Trojans will find more meat on their weekend plates.