1. No quarterback pressure without Porter Gustin
During the first half when linebacker Porter Gustin was out serving a half-game suspension for targeting, Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew seemed to have all day to throw. WSU scored 24 points in the first half as the short pass seemed to be available whenever they wanted it. In the second half, with the return of Gustin, WSU was held to 12 points as Gustin recorded USC’s only sack of the night.
Minshew went 21 of 30 for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, compared to 16 of 22 for 165 yards and one touchdown in the second half. The splits may not seem like much of a difference, but WSU’s longest play of the night, a 59-yard pass, came in the second half. Once Gustin returned, WSU stopped having as many of the consistent drives they were having in the first half. USC forced a three-and-out three times in the second half compared to zero in the first. The Trojans finished the game with one sack and two quarterback hurries.
What does this mean for the rest of USC’s defensive front and defense as a whole? Is the USC defense almost completely supported by a linebacker who will be gone next year and has been injury prone throughout his time at USC? It seems unlikely that the defensive improvement was second half adjustments considering the Trojans were just outscored a week ago by Texas 21-0 in the second half. The USC front seven needs to put more pressure on quarterbacks to force mistakes. USC at this point in the season has zero interceptions and one turnover, which came on the first play of the season against UNLV.
2. The sky is the limit for USC’s wide receivers
USC’s wide receivers absolutely dominated WSU’s secondary. Tyler Vaughns hauled in seven catches for 64 yards and a touchdown including a two-point conversion, Michael Pittman Jr. caught two passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, Velus Jones had 48 receiving yards and Amon-Ra St. Brown caught two passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. These stats may not seem like USC’s wide receivers “dominated,” but WSU was called for 11 penalties that resulted in 118 yards, including six penalties in the secondary. Vaughns and Pittman Jr. showed their potential last year in route to being the second and third most efficient wide receivers in the PAC-12, and the natural connection between JT Daniels and St. Brown has been fun to watch. USC’s wide receivers have the potential to be one of if not the best in the country this year, especially with the current state of the run game.
3. USC’s offensive line is a mess
USC scored zero touchdowns against Stanford. They had negative five rush yards against Texas. Things did not get much better for the offensive line against WSU. After a commanding opening drive that resulted in 80 rush yards, the Trojans had only 23 rush yards the rest of the game. Center Toa Lobendahn had a number of terrible snaps that resulted in negative 24 yards. Putting this much unneeded pressure on the shoulders of a true freshman quarterback is the last thing USC wants to do.