The USC Trojans are many steps closer to playing their game this week against the Washington State Cougars after having their game last week cancelled due to a lack of available scholarship players on the offensive line to take the field.
That situation has improved this week with no positive results coming from players after five days of testing starting on Sunday. The Trojans had up to 11 players out with either positive test results or contact tracing restrictions. The team has also been practicing all week as usual and are getting players back from quarantine little by little after they’ve tested negative multiple times.
The team had been off for about a week without contact dating back to preparing for last week’s game against Colorado, and head coach Clay Helton has been working to get all of the players back into football shape for the upcoming game.
“We’ve worked with our medical on a plan that allows our guys to stay in shape and stay in condition and are functioning in that plan right now,” Helton said to the media on Tuesday. “We get the opportunity to hopefully get those guys back — obviously there’s a lot of testing to go … every day, sometimes it’s one time and sometimes it’s twice a day … and we’re anticipating if everything stays and trends in a good direction, we’ll have the adequate number to be able to play the game.”
The game was moved from Friday to Sunday in order to give both teams a chance to get as many key players back from restrictions as possible at necessary positions.
Both teams had last weekend off after canceled games, but Washington State also had the weekend before off because of a cancelation.
When looking at Sunday and the preparation needed to have a good game against the Cougars, the Trojans have three things to use to their advantage as well as things to worry about.
The young quarterbacks have a lot on their plate, and the one with the most balanced offense will prevail.
Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis has completed almost 71 percent of his passes thus far in three games and has passed for almost 1,000 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions — ranked second in the conference.
USC’s rushing trio has gone for over 100 yards each and have scored six touchdowns combined, while the receiving corps has two players with over 200 yards catching and two more with over 100 yards. Junior Amon-Ra St. Brown is ranked second in the conference and sophomore Drake London is ranked fourth in receiving yards.
On the other side, Cougars’ freshman quarterback Jayden De Laura has passed for over 500 yards on 72 attempts with four touchdowns and an interception in two games. The team’s 274 passing yards per game is ranked third in the Pac-12 conference.
The Washington State running game is good with senior Deon McIntosh rushing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns on 34 attempts, but it may get better with junior Max Borghi likely coming back from injury after hurting his back in preseason camp. Borghi ran for over 800 yards on 127 attempts and 11 touchdowns in 13 games last year.
The Cougars also have two receivers with over 200 yards receiving on 16 catches — senior Renard Bell, out of Cathedral in Los Angeles, with 218 yards, and junior Travell Harris with 201 yards on the season.
Helton said Thursday that Washington State is going to have four wideouts offensively and head coach Nick Rolovich balances his offense with a solid running game and versatile play calling.
“I credit him because all of a sudden you lose Max Borghi and you’re going to your second back and put McIntosh in, and you still keep that discipline. He’s done a really nice job of running the ball between the tackles and then attacking every inch of grass vertically and horizontally,” Helton said.
Helton said aside from Arizona, this is the first game they’ll play against a true spread offense that will use all of the space on the field.
The Trojans’ quarantine-affected position group is the offensive line, so it’s unknown who will be back in time for the game, but Helton did mention on Tuesday that he is going to look to the younger guys on the team to step up if their number is called.
Defense is key and the one that forces the most mistakes will win the battle.
The Cougars’ defense has five sacks, six pass deflections, one interception, and four forced fumbles in two games. The defense had four sacks against Oregon State and two forced fumbles, one sack, and one interception against the ranked Oregon team.
The Washington State defensive backs led by seniors Daniel Isom and George Hicks III are solid matchups for the Trojans’ receivers.
The Trojans’ defense has eight sacks, 12 pass deflections, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles in three games. The defense led by safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao are ranked second in the conference with 24.7 points allowed on the season — less than two points below stat leading Washington. Hufanga is ranked second in the conference with two interceptions.
It may pay off to be well-rested, or it can lead to sloppy play.
With the Trojans having a week off and the Cougars having two weeks off, the team that can bounce back the best are the ones that will come out victorious on Sunday.
The Trojans are going to have a bit of an advantage by staying in LA all week and their practice on Saturday before game day is going to be important.
“Saturday is a big day for us,” Helton said on Thursday. “It’s a day that we will review the entire game plan and put a little more emphasis that day. We go through a full meeting day, and usually, it’s about an hour’s work, and it could be a little bit longer than that this time around.”
The game plan is a little more extensive since USC has some idea of what their opponent is going to do, unlike their last three opponents. The Trojans have a better idea of their schemes and their personnel to test out matchups after seeing tape of their two games.
The Trojans also had some time to self-reflect a little bit and they were able to see their mistakes and possibly learn from them and improve for Sunday.
USC is looking at an interesting schedule coming up with three games in 12 days — a game on Sunday, their rivalry game against UCLA on Saturday, and a possible conference championship game the following Friday.
Helton mentioned likely doubling up on game plans during Wednesday practices. They usually do first and second down planning on Tuesdays, third-down planning on Wednesdays, and red zone planning on Thursdays.
If the Trojans continue to win and remain undefeated, they will have a tough schedule ahead.
The game is scheduled for Sunday, at 4:30 p.m. on FS1.