A closer look at Washington State’s heartbreak in Los Angeles

It almost seemed scripted that Washington State, fielding 33 players from Southern California, would leave the City of Angels with a marquee victory to begin conference play. Of course, that was all written in pencil.

After 60 minutes of hard-fought football and a barrage of controversy, the Trojans of USC emerged victorious by a narrow 39-36 margin.

Things we like to see
Easop Winston Jr. flat out dominated his defender time and time again. In the second quarter, he took over an entire drive picking up three receptions for 62 yards and the touchdown. He is slowly emerging as a leader in the receiving corps, and Friday’s performance was a big step in the right direction.

Gardner Minshew II, to no ones surprise, continued to do what he does best – move the offense. Whether he was converting on third down or finding the end zone, his mobility extended plays in ways we have not seen from a Cougar quarterback in quite some time. And though 344 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers wouldn’t be enough, the signal caller showed true leadership in his postgame press conference with the media.

With the chatter around USC freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels, it was easy to forget Washington State flashes a young star of their own. The fact that Max Borghi was trusted with a crucial snap in a big game says a lot about the freshman halfback. Perhaps it says even more that he took it 13 yards to the house.

By the numbers, WSU has struggled all year on third-down situations; however, they showed noticeable improvement Friday in Los Angeles. Their 7-16 mark greatly surpasses the cumulative 10-37 tally from the previous three weeks.

Even more exciting was WSU’s perfect 3-3 conversion rate on fourth down. Aggressive play calling all night yielded favorable results for the Cougs and is likely what kept them in the hunt for so long.

And for what it is worth, Washington State covered the 4.5 point spread. While that literally means nothing in grand scheme of things, it probably matters to someone.

Things we don’t like to see
The opening drive was not an accurate predictor of how the game would pan out, but boy was it a scare. The Trojans needed just over two minutes to march 75 yards for a touchdown. Thankfully, the Cougar defense locked it down and played to a considerably higher level for the rest of the game.

If one were to read the box score alone with no scoring context, more often than not WSU would have been the predicted winner. Wazzu was ahead in nearly every statistical category and outgained the Trojans 435 to 354 yards. So what happened? The Cougars gave up 118 yards on 11 penalties. The defensive backs have got to clean up their play.

Moreover, the special teams unit did not have their head in the right place. A missed PAT and a blocked field goal were difference makers in this one. If both plays are executed, the Trojan’s home winning streak ends at 17 games.

And complain all you want about the call to run on third-and-six, but the entire offense was out of sync. The left side of the line pass blocked while the right side of the line run blocked. The offense, as a unit, was not running the same play. Communication was the bigger problem.

Things we cannot believe we saw
As mentioned, perfect execution on special teams wins this game; WSU needed no favors. However, getting this obvious call right – a clear targeting foul – makes it a whole lot easier.

Next Saturday, Washington State (3-1, 0-1) hosts Utah (2-1, 0-1) for homecoming week. Coverage of the 3 p.m. kickoff can found on the Pac-12 Network.

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