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USC is now the third preseason top-five team to have a loss. And September isn’t even over yet.
No. 16 Washington State forced a fumble of USC quarterback Sam Darnold with 90 seconds left to seal a 30-27 win over the No. 5 Trojans on Friday night in Pullman.
After USC tied the game at 27-27 with 5:01 to go, Washington State kicker Erik Powell hit a 32-yard field goal with 1:40 left for the three-point lead. That was plenty of time for Darnold and USC to march down the field and at least send the game to overtime, right?
Nope. Darnold was sacked on the second play as he had no chance to avoid the blitz by Washington State’s Jahad Woods.
After the game, Washington State fans flooded the field, a scene that Washington State coach Mike Leach described to ESPN as “like Woodstock except everybody’s got their clothes on.”
Darnold struggled for most of Friday night’s game. Some of that can be attributed to a Washington State pass rush that was fueled by the loss of three USC starting linemen, though we’re not sure a healthy USC line would have picked up Woods on that blitz. Left tackle Toa Lobendahn didn’t make the trip to Pullman, and two more starters, including Chuma Edoga, left the game with injuries.
USC’s Rasheem Green was helped off the field late in the game and defensive tackle Malik Dorton was down on the field twice during the game. Oh, and linebacker Porter Gustin didn’t make the trip either because of injuries. This is a banged-up Trojans team.
But while Darnold was missing three-fifths of his offensive line, he was off too. He had some missed throws and generally was more effective running the ball than he was throwing it. He scored two rushing touchdowns, including one that tied the game at 27-27.
On that drive, Darnold had two great connections with Tyler Vaughns. The first came on a fourth-and-13 play where Darnold lofted a pass down the middle of the field and Vaughns skied for it. On the next play, Darnold found an open Vaughns on a flag route and Vaughns was tackled at the goal line.
Two plays later, Darnold had tied the game. But there was way too much time for Washington State.
The Cougars offense was far more efficient as running back Jamal Morrow had six carries for 91 yards and five catches for 47 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. You may remember Morrow as the guy Leach selected as a team captain because Morrow was on the Price is Right and almost won the Showcase Showdown.
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk finished 34-of-51 passing for 340 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The win is the biggest for the Cougars since Leach arrived in Pullman. After winning 17 games over the past two seasons, Leach’s team is now 5-0 and a serious contender to in-state rival Washington for the Pac-12 North.
While it’s easy to stereotype Leach’s teams as pass-first offenses that don’t run the ball or play defense, the Washington State defense has quietly been one of the better units since the beginning of last season, and the Cougars may have the best stable of running backs in the Pac-12.
USC, meanwhile, joins Ohio State and Florida State as preseason top-five teams with a loss before the first month of the season is over. While this game doesn’t do anything for Darnold’s Heisman candidacy — he was 15-of-29 passing and threw his eighth interception of the season — it’s far from a backbreaker for USC’s Pac-12 hopes. The Trojans are still probably the best team in a muddy Pac-12 South and we can’t see the Trojans falling too far in the polls because of a close loss to a good opponent in a weeknight road game.
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