USC (5-3) at Washington State (2-6) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Martin Stadium (35,117) -- Pullman, Washington. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: USC 3-1, WSU 1-3. Away Record: USC 2-2, WSU 1-2. Neutral Record: USC 0-0, WSU 0-1. Conference Record: USC 4-2, WSU 0-5. Series Record: USC leads, 58-9-4.
GAME NOTES: Following a difficult loss, the USC Trojans will attempt to bounce back on the road when they face the Washington State Cougars in a Pac-12 Conference clash at Martin Stadium.
Utah's Kaelin Clay brought in a one-yard touchdown pass from Travis Wilson in the final seconds to send USC to a 24-21 loss in Salt Lake City last weekend. The setback ended a two-game win streak for USC, which is 5-3 overall and a respectable 4-2 against Pac-12 foes. The Trojans have had mixed luck on the road, splitting four trips away from Los Angeles.
Washington State may not have lost by such a close margin last weekend, but it was still a difficult outcome to swallow. The Cougars were routed, 59-37, by Arizona at home, pushing their losing streak to three games. They are now just 2-6 overall, with losses in all five Pac-12 matchups. It is quite the regression for a team that ended a 10-season bowl drought last year.
Any hope the Cougars have to return to the postseason is fading fast, especially against USC, which leads the all-time series between the two programs by an incredible 58-9-4 margin. Perhaps Washington State can reclaim the magic from last season, when it pulled off a 10-7 upset of the Trojans.
USC may have had a slight edge in total offense against Utah (364-331), but that didn't make a difference. The Trojans struggled to move the ball on the ground, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
With the run game slowed so dramatically, USC failed to reach its normal offensive heights, as it is averaging 450.4 total yards per game.
A week after throwing seven touchdown passes against Colorado, Cody Kessler came back down to Earth against Utah. He did complete 75 percent of his pass attempts, but finished with more pedestrian numbers of 264 yards and two touchdowns, to go with an interception, his second of the season, but also the second in the last three games. Kessler is still having a season to be proud of, with a .702 completion percentage, 2,148 yards and 20 scores overall.
Nelson Agholor and Kessler have been on the same page all season, which is why the wideout leads the team in receptions (58), yards (643) and touchdowns (seven). He had another fine outing against Utah, tallying 110 yards on a season-high 10 receptions. JuJu Smith (32 receptions, 427 yards, two TDs) had more than 70 yards and a touchdown for the second straight week in the loss to the Utes.
Running back Javorious Allen is also an important part of the passing game, ranking third on the team in receptions (27) and receiving yards (316). He has been even more impressive on running plays, with 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns on 177 carries. He is the only player in the Pac-12 to have more than 1,000 yards on the ground. His 101-yard effort against Utah was his seventh 100-yard performance in eight games this season.
USC is a solid defensive squad, as the team ranks third in the Pac-12 in points allowed (23.2 ppg) and fourth in total defense (395.5 ypg). Leonard Williams (4.5 sacks, 51 total stops) leads the way for a strong pass rush, which is key for the unit. Su'a Cravens (38 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and J.R. Tavai (41 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) are also tough to keep in check.
Williams and company have one job against Washington State; stop the pass. The Cougars possess one of the least balanced offenses in the country, but they are still one of the most potent. They lead the nation in passing offense (489.9 ypg) and rank second in the Pac-12 in total offense (535.8 ypg).
Connor Halliday leads the team from under center and his stat line through eight games would be considered fantastic for most quarterbacks. Halliday has thrown for 3,833 yards and 32 touchdowns, while completing 67.3 percent of his passes. Halliday has been picked off 10 times, but he has thrown the ball 517 times, so a few errant throws are to be expected.
There are plenty of options for Halliday to get the ball to, led by Vince Mayle, who is at the top of the Pac-12 in receiving yards (926). Mayle also has a team-high 71 receptions as well as eight touchdowns. Isiah Myers (59 receptions, 722 yards, nine TDs), River Cracraft (59 receptions, 698 yards, seven TDs) and Dominique Williams (31 receptions, 536 yards, six TDs) have been productive as well.
Jamal Morrow is the leading rusher (257 yardS), and he is fourth on the team with 42 receptions, which has led to 325 yards.
While the offense has been effective just about every week, the Cougars defense has not been strong enough to produce more victories. Washington State is letting up 38 points and 444.6 yards per game, ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense.
Balance can be a good thing in football and USC is clearly the more balanced of these two teams. Even if Washington State is able to push the tempo on offense, which will be very tough against USC's defense, Kessler has the skill and weapons to keep up with Halliday stride for stride.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 35, Washington State 27Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 1, 4:30 p.m. (ET)