The Washington State Cougars (0-1) come to the Coliseum looking for their first victory against the No. 25 USC Trojans since 2002. Head coach Mike Leach is molding the WSU program to resemble glory days in Cougar history, now in the midst of his second season, when the teams were lead by quarterback Jason Gesser and coach Mike Price.
While they have certainly made strides in terms of talent development, WSU looks overmatched on paper as they try to replicate its 30-27 OT home victory. The Trojans possess an athletic advantage at almost every position, yet there are specifically three areas in which USC can thoroughly dominate the Cougars.
Both through their aerial attack as well as the ground and pound game, the Trojans will be able to exploit multiple matchup disadvantages to ensure plenty of points on the board. On the defensive end of the field, the newly installed "52" scheme should disrupt a Cougars offense predicated on timing and precision in the passing game.
The Trojans disparity between wide receivers and opposing secondary play is even more pronounced against an already thin and inexperienced Cougars unit to begin with. They will now have to deal with the loss of their leader in the secondary in senior Nolan Washington, who suffered an injury last week in a 7-point road loss to Auburn.
This leaves raw freshman Daquawn Brown to match up against Marqise Lee on the outside. While Lee looked rusty last week against Hawaii, he found his groove in the second half truly beginning to resemble the Biletnikoff award winner from last year. Brown's first start should be a long one with the Trojan crowd ready waking every moment for possible deep-play threats with Lee and Nelson Agholor.
The advantage the Trojans hold is resting on the assumption that either Cody Kessler or Max Wittek turn in a satisfactory performances. If Kessler gets the nod, he can build on momentum from his last drive before halftime when it appeared Kiffin loosened the reins, allowing him to acquire comfort with the offense.
If Wittek gets the starting nod meanwhile, his powerful arm can lead a potent vertical attack. Either way, Agholor and the tight end tandem of Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble should overmatch the Cougars banged up secondary.
In addition to a suspect secondary, the Cougars also give up size in their front seven which bodes well for a surprisingly spry Trojan rushing attack. After allowing 297 yards to Auburn last week, the Cougars will now have to deal with the combination of Tre Madden and Justin Davis in the backfield. Madden, now fully recovered from his ACL tear, followed up flashes of immense potential he has shown in practice and scrimmages with a 100-plus yard debut performance.
Davis, the true freshman back, looks to feast on the Cougars and build on a phenomenal freshman introduction against the Warriors last Thursday. The two backs will run behind a mammoth offensive line (which returns four starters from last season) that started to gain cohesiveness as powerful run blockers in the second half of last week's season opener.
On the defensive side of the ball, the fast and rangy front seven will use their aggressive new philosophy to counteract a quick hitting primarily passing focused Washington State offense. After living in the Warrior's backfield last week, Devon Kennard and the rest of the Trojans will look to make redshirt junior Connor Halliday's Pac-12 opener a day to forget.
The Trojans may be thin in the secondary, even susceptible to a few home run plays, but the talent gap over WSU should be enough to thwart any possible upset from Mike Leach and his improving squad come game day.