The Washington State Cougars nearly ended the USC Trojans’ home win streak at the Coliseum on Friday night. After a “Pac-12 after dark” shootout, the Trojans notched their seventeenth home win under head coach Clay Helton and provided fans with things to both lament and rejoice about.
Tyler Vaughns & Michael Pittman Jr.
USC fans have been waiting for wide receiver Tyler Vaughns to really get going in 2018, and Friday proved to be his night.
After struggling with timing and chemistry issues with quarterback JT Daniels for the first three games of the season, the duo was finally able to click in USC’s win over Washington State.
In the Trojans’ previous games against UNLV, Stanford, and Texas, Vaughns had only recorded 14 receptions and zero touchdowns, which was uncharacteristic for the usually explosive wide receiver.
Daniels and Vaughns seemingly fixed their connection troubles, as Vaughns had seven receptions for 64 yards, one touchdown, and one highlight reel two point conversion.
The sophomore wide receiver was back to his acrobatic self with eye popping grabs and reliable hands. Vaughns and Daniels had a great chemistry in fall camp, so it was great to see their work together finally showcased in front of the Trojan faithful.
During the first three games of the season, Michael Pittman Jr. and Daniels were also having trouble connecting, though like with Vaughns, Pittman Jr. finally had the game fans have been waiting for.
Against UNLV, Stanford, and Texas, Pittman Jr. only recorded eight catches for zero touchdowns. Against Washington State, the junior wide receiver had two receptions for 72 yards and one (should have been two but refs be trolling) touchdown.
Pittman Jr. is far from the stats he should have, but that stems from the trouble he and Daniels have had linking together as well as uncharacteristic drops from Pittman Jr. this season. If he and Daniels are able to build on this win and establish a trust like Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown have, then expect USC’s pass game to start flying.
With 13 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns, this was running back Vavae Malepeai’s best performance of the season.
Through the first three games, Malepeai only had a combined total of 13 carries but he was grooving Friday night against the Cougars. The redshirt sophomore claimed the opening touchdown, with a rush into the end zone after USC’s opening 75-yard drive.
Coming into Friday’s game, Malepeai was listed behind senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware, though got the nod during game time as Ware was dealing with knee pain.
At 6-foot, 215 pounds, Malepaei serves as USC’s power back and has been effective barreling into the end zone with five touchdowns in four games. He has become the Trojans’ most reliable running back and will surely be getting more carries if he keeps performing like he has been.
Friday night’s win was Daniels’ best game of his young USC career. The true freshman quarterback was 17 of 26 for 241 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 181.3.
What made Daniels so successful against Washington State was his ability to finally spread the ball around. Daniels’ three touchdown passes were caught by three different receivers in Vaughns, Pittman, and St. Brown.
While the Mater Dei Monarch connection of Daniels and St. Brown is definitely a magical one, the former Monarch signal caller performs better when he does not have to solely rely on St. Brown, which often causes Daniels to rush the throw or throw dangerously into unideal coverage.
Daniels is a quarterback that is not short on weapons, and when he uses them to their full capacity, we see a Trojan offense that should have beat Stanford and Texas. The young gun’s poise under incredible shoot-out pressure and tense atmosphere in the Coliseum, was nothing short of remarkable for a player his age.
Oh, and he throws a disgustingly saucy deep ball and showed how finely he can thread the needle with an unreal two-point conversion pass to Vaughns.
USC Defense (minus Jay Tufele and Talanoa Hufanga)
In arguably their worst performance this season, the USC Trojan defense did not make things any easier on a Trojan offense that had been struggling the past two games.
Through three outings, USC’s defense has been stellar shutting down the pass, that is until they met Cougar graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew. For whatever reason, the Trojans were unable to pressure Minshew in a way that caused him to make costly mistakes. On the rare chances they got through the WSU offensive lineman, Minshew still managed to fire off a pass for a completion.
The defense was without senior captain Porter Gustin for the first half, due to a targeting foul he committed during the Texas game. Whether or not that was the cause of the horrible pass rush is still to be determined. When Gustin was able to come off the bench, he recorded one sack and four tackles.
The Trojans allowed Minshew to go 37 of 52 for 344 yards and three touchdowns, and he repeatedly picked apart corner backs Greg Johnson and Isaiah Langley. USC’s ability to get off the field on third down was also shredded by the WSU offense as they were 7-of-16 for a 43.8 conversion rate.
As mentioned above, there were a couple standout players in USC’s defense. True freshman safety Talanoa Hufanga dominated the first start of his Trojan career. With nine tackles and a clutch pass breakup that stopped the Cougars from scoring, it is safe to say he is now one of the most exciting players to watch this season.
Though Hufanga put on a heck of a performance, the defensive player of the game has to go to Jay Tufele, as his blocked field goal sealed the deal for USC to come up with their second win of the season.