LOS ANGELES, CA-The USC Trojans football team came into its Pac-12 Conference matchup against Washington State at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Friday night needed to stop their two-game losing streak bleeding. Badly. After being rough up on consecutive road trips at Stanford and Texas, the Trojans encountered a hot Cougars squad which had gone undefeated through its first three games.
Something had to give. The winner was either going to be USC’s willpower or Washington State’s aerial show winning out in this contest. For the first 30 minutes of play, things were looking pretty shaky for the Trojans as the Cougars went up and down the football field to put up 24 points through the first two quarters and take a seven-point lead into halftime.
That was probably a good thing because Clay Helton’s squad came out into the second half and played with the type of desperation needed for a team not wanting to go a three-game slide. That starts on the defensive side of the ball. After giving up 24 points in the first half, USC slowed down Washington State’s potent offense and limited the Cougars to just 12 points in the second half to come away with a 39-36 come-from-behind win at home.
And when it counted the most, the Trojans’ defense stepped up a final time with less than two minutes to play in the game when they blocked a potential game-tying field goal by Washington State’s placekicker Blake Mazza. Earlier during the game, Mazza had connected on a 50-yard field goal to give the Cougars their first points of the night.
It’s ironic that Washington State would settle for a game-tying field goal and wanting to take their chances to win the ballgame in overtime rather than try to allow quarterback Gardner Minshew to try to lead the Cougars to a win during regulation. After all, Minshew had been slinging the ball all over the field, completing 37 of his 52 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
But with the Trojans playing incredibly better defense in the second half and being on the road, Washington State coach Mike Leach might have thought the safe route to a “W” might lie in the overtime route. Whatever the case might be, Leach and the Cougars didn’t get that opportunity. The Trojans saw to that.
But in order to deny Washington State their fourth victory of the season, USC was forced to step up their game on both sides of the ball. Penalties, a lack of defensive consistency, mixed in with stalled offensive drives put the Trojans in their intermission hole. After being outscored 21-10 in the second quarter, USC, led by the passing of freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels (17 of 26 passing for 241 yards and three touchdowns), was able to outscore the Cougars 22-12 in the second half.
Daniels would not have been able to put USC in position to win without plenty of help. Daniels connected on a 50-yard touchdown pass with Michael Pittman Jr. in the third quarter to bring USC within 30-24 of Washington State. It was Daniels’ 30-yard scoring toss at the beginning of the fourth quarter to Amon-Ra St. Brown that turned the tide for the Trojans. That pass to Brown gave USC a 31-30 lead at the 14: 31 mark of the fourth period.
After a quick response from Washington State (Easop Winston’s four-yard touchdown reception from Minshew), USC countered with a short scoring run from Vavae Malepeai to give the Trojans a three-point advantage, thus setting the stage for the game’s dramatic conclusion.