Cougars Lose Lead Late and Fall Hard to the Hands of the Trojans

Washington State went into their “Friday Night Lights” match-up against the USC Trojans seeking their 4th straight win of the season. Wazzu was coming off a sensational win versus Eastern Washington while the Trojans had suffered their 2nd loss of the season against Texas. Though the Cougars had already played 3 games on the young season, the match-up with the Trojans would be their toughest yet of the young season. USC even with a 1-2 record, is always a tough opponent and had won the Pac-12 championship the previous season. Their athletes are bigger and faster than what the Cougars have seen this season. WSU knew that they would have to bring their “A” game. With Gardner Minshew at the helm, Cougar Nation knew that anything could happen.

USC won the toss and chose to receive. With true Freshman J.T. Daniels at the helm, he quickly led the Trojans down the field and scored in 5 plays. They were all running plays as the Cougars continued to give up the big play, which included a 50-yard run. USC had studied the Cougars well as they ran in up the middle, as their big offensive linemen opened big hole after big hole. After both teams exchanged punts, the Cougars were given great field position. Minshew continued to have trouble moving the ball against the Trojan Defense. The result was a 50-yard field goal by Blake Mazza. The kick was so good, it would have been good from 60 plus yards. With the score 7-3, the Trojans continued to struggle moving the ball. The quarter ended with the Cougars driving down the field.

Wazzu took the lead 10-7 on a touchdown run by James Williams to open the 2nd quarter. The Trojans responded with a 75-yard, 3 play drive, highlighted by a 52-yard kickoff return and multiple Cougar penalties, which would start a theme here. As USC took the lead 14-10, fans sensed a meltdown by the Cougars. But it wasn’t going happen with Minshew at the helm. On the next drive he picked apart the Trojan D with great poise as he led the Cougars down the field on a 5 play, 75-yard drive. The star of the drive was wide-out Easop Winston who had 3 catches for 62 yards, which included the touchdown to put the Cougars back up by 3. Wazzu stopped the Trojans on their next drive, not after 2 more Cougar defensive penalties. Gardner Minshew was pumped and ready for another long drive. He quickly took the Cougars down on an 11 play, 75-yard drive as wide-out Patmon secured a touchdown pass. With the lead 24-14, and the half nearing, the Cougs needed to make a defensive stop. With that said, that didn’t happen as USC drove down the field. Luckily amidst the continued defensive penalties by the Cougs they were able to hold the Trojans to 3 points as Wazzu went into the half with a 24-17 lead.

The Cougars received the second half kickoff and quickly marched down the field in 11 plays for 75 yards. Freshman Max Borghi closed out the drive with a 13-yard run for the touchdown to put the Cougs up 30-17 but they botched the extra point. Cougar Nation was yelling “No!” when that happened. These kinds of things can’t happen when one is playing a quality opponent like the Trojans. USC countered on a 3-play drive that cut the lead to 30-24. Wazzu wasn’t in trouble; not yet anyway.

As we went into the fourth quarter, USC was currently on a long drive, wrapped around penalty after penalty. They eventually scored on a 30-yard TD pass to go up 31-30. There was plenty of time left in the game, in the eyes of Gardner “Uncle Rico” Minshew anyway. Minshew didn’t disappoint as he took the Cougs on another long drive. Easop Winston was the star of the drive with 2 catches for 63 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. The Cougars went for the 2-point conversion hoping to increase the lead by 7 but the failed. With 10 minutes on the clock, Wazzu was up 36-31. No lead was safe in the “United Airlines Memorial Stadium”, the home of the Trojans. USC proved ESPN and their national television audience right as they moved the ball on the Cougs with big play after big play. Once again WSU had pass-interference penalties involved.

The result was another touchdown by USC and they were successful on the 2-point conversion. USC had the lead of 39-36 with eight minutes left on the clock. After both teams exchanged punts, Wazzu got the ball back with a little over 5 minutes to play. Minshew still had some magic in him, but was it enough? Gardner moved the Cougs into field goal range as the Cougs slowly made their way down the field. With some questionable play-calling by the offensive, it quickly became 4th down. Wazzu kicker Blake Mazza came out on the field for an easy make-able field goal. Cougar Nation was OK with overtime if they could stop the USC offense on their next drive. USC was ready for the field goal attempt as they blocked the field goal with ease. USC ran the ball until time ran out. USC won the ballgame 39-36 in a thriller as Cougar nation was wondering what could have been?

Takeaways from a thrilling victory by the USC Trojans and the agony of defeat for WSU:

  • Penalties killed the Cougars chances. 11 penalties for 118 yards, most of them were on the defense as the defense squandered their chances several times of getting the ball back. The defensive backs could not keep up with the athleticism of the Trojan receivers, so they were called for pass interference multiple times. This led to the Trojans scoring instead of punting the ball away.

  • Too many big plays given up by the “new and improved’ Cougar defense. If they want to win more games in the Pac-12, they got to be able to step it up on defense and not make stupid mistakes.
  • Special teams were a big reason why they lost Friday night. A botched extra point and when they tried to tie the ballgame, they had an easy make-able field goal blocked. USC had great field positions on several kickoffs because of their kickoff returns. Special teams continue to be a negative for the Cougs.

  • Gardner Minshew continues to make a name for himself, if it wasn’t for the “East Coast Bias”, Minshew would be making more headlines and be receiving more respect from college football. Against USC on Friday night, behind another spectacular performance by the offensive line, Minshew was 37-52 for 344 yards and 3 touchdowns. If this doesn’t make him a household name on national television, then this strengthens the argument for the “East Coast Bias”. “Uncle Rico” is on fire and deserves to be considered one of the top-10 quarterbacks in college football if not top 5.

  • Easop Winston, 6 receptions for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns. On a night where T Martin failed to show up to the game (or did he, and USC just shut him down?), Easop was making spectacular catch after catch. In fact, the more catches he made, the more successful this team was. The routes he ran opened opportunities for 8 other Cougar players who made catches. It was nice to see that Gardner had other options to throw too on an off night for T Martin.

  • Washington State lost the ballgame because of their mistakes in the second half but one thing I have to say about the ballgame was that the referees were terrible. Every call seemed to go against Wazzu, some fair and some weren’t. If the game tapes were reviewed, I guarantee that the Refs missed many calls that should have gone against USC. Several times they should have been called for defensive holding and on the last drive of the ballgame, one of their defensive players gave a cheap shot to the head of our quarterback Minshew. Replays clearly showed that the refs were completely asleep on this play and that player should have been called for targeting. It truly felt that the Pac-12 and ESPN wanted the outcome with USC winning. As one article I read after the ballgame stated, USC was cast as the stars of this game and the Cougars were the supporting actors. This certainly ended up true on the scoreboard and the eyes of the “biased” referees. Wazzu lost the ballgame because of their mishaps, but the calls these referees made were unacceptable and I hope that they get a slap on their hands.

  • “East Coast Bias” will always be a factor in college football. The West Coast will never get the respect they deserve. Friday night was a huge example. This is a debate that will never end but should be considered when they schedule these games.

Next up for Washington State is Utah who will be coming to Pullman next Saturday the 29th. Kickoff is at 3pm on the Pac-12 Network. Utah, always a tough opponent for anyone, is certainly a winnable game for the Cougs as they hope to go 4-1. The mistakes that happened Friday night can’t happen, but if Minshew continues the way he’s playing, there is hope for a huge win on “Homecoming” weekend in the Palouse!

Where will you be watching Cougar Nation? I can’t wait for the game. Love our Cougs!
Go Cougs!!!

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News Reporter
Brian joined the SSU in 2017 and covers the Everett AquaSox. I'm a graduate of Washington State University and I'm a die-hard baseball fan.