Friday Night Lights

Campus Clash

(5) USC Trojans at (16) Washington State Cougars

USC: I think it’s safe to say they have truly lived up to the hype surrounding them throughout the Summer and as the season approached. Yes, they’re 4-0, but something hasn’t been right with them. They struggled in the opener against Western Michigan, they handled their business against Stanford in a convincing way, they needed double overtime to get past Texas and beat California by ten in week four. Sam Darnold is expected to be a top NFL prospect when he decides to declare himself eligible, but this season hasn’t necessarily been jaw-dropping because you were probably expecting him to be leading every major statistical category in college football. As week five approaches, he’s thrown nine touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He threw a total of nine interceptions all of the last season. What’s also keeping them from being mentioned in the playoff conversation is their defense. They give up close to 25 points a game to their opponents (24.8) and one of the things that really concerns me is their inability to stop the run. They play sloppily on the defensive side at times with missed tackles, senseless penalties and such, but I will say that as of late, they’ve done just enough on the defensive side of the football and they will simply need every ounce of playmaking they can possibly receive on Friday night for a conference showdown with the Cougars from the University of Washington State.

Washington State: Coach Mike Leach has always been a really colorful character from his hysterical antics at his press conferences to his mannerisms. But, I want to focus on the football side of things and his Washington State Cougars are off to their best start in 16 years with their 4-0 start. I must be honest here with you though. I’ve heard his name a lot, but I haven’t seen much of quarterback Luke Falk play but I’m always willing to study and do my homework on a player and I’ve done just that. He’s a six-foot-four junior who’s a pure athlete at best. His feet are always moving and he’s very aware of what’s going on around him while he’s in the pocket. He can make each throw you ask him to whether it’s the typical screen pass, a dart over the middle in the flat or go for the big play down the field and make that deep pass down the sideline. As a quarterback, accuracy, and placement are the two most important things you must have and he places the football perfectly in the breadbasket to his receivers. Falk is the catalyst that makes this Cougars offense go and he’s having a great year. He’s thrown 14 touchdown passes and only one interception, so we see he takes great care of the football. Mike Leach’s offense isn’t afraid to score and they can put points up on the scoreboard in a hurry and are averaging 43 points a game. They also play defense and have given up only 18 points per game. This is a huge game for these guys with a potential title hopeful in town.

USC Player To Watch: Cam Smith– He, along with the rest of the linebacking core for the Trojans have played extremely well as of late. No team likes to run the spread offense more than the Washington State Cougars and I expect Cam to be all over the place on Friday night.

Washington State Player To Watch: James Williams– He’s an all-around running back. His numbers on the ground don’t really stand out (37 yards per game rushing on nine attempts) but he’s also a threat in the receiving game as well as he averages 66 yards catching the football. Expect him to be lined up in the slot and even out wide and there’s absolutely nothing you can do with a running back lined up as a receiver.

Final Analysis: This has the makings of a trap game written all over it and USC has shown that they can be vulnerable at times. They’ve had to battle against Texas and California, two teams that they should’ve beat by at least two touchdowns. Darnold really needs to bring in this one. He needs to look like the guy everyone hyped up during the offseason. This will be the best defense that Washington State has seen all year and they simply need to do what they’ve done all year long. Washington State also has one of the better QB’s in the country in Luke Falk who set Washington State records in passing yards and total offense earlier this season. USC may be the better team on paper in this matchup, but Washington State has played better football.

Prediction: Washington State 38 USC 31