USC, Washington State take rare Sunday spotlight
Washington State and Southern California, No. 20 in the College Football Playoff rankings, should be well-rested by the time they meet Sunday in a Pacific-12 Conference game in Los Angeles.
The Cougars might even be a bit rusty.
WSU (1-1) has had its past two games canceled because of coronavirus concerns, including last week’s Apple Cup rivalry against Washington. Athletic director Pat Chun said then that nine football players were in COVID-19 protocol.
“We talk about how disappointed I’m sure everyone is that there wasn’t an Apple Cup (last week), but you flip it and go straight to USC,” first-year Cougars coach Nick Rolovich said. “Almost becomes like a bonus-bye-week-type deal.”
Under Rolovich, Washington State ranks third in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (274.0) and seventh in rushing offense (164.5). Preseason all-conference first-team running back Max Borghi has yet to play this season. He suffered a back injury in preseason camp.
Quarterback Jayden de Laura has been steady, completing 59.7 percent of his pass attempts for 548 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. He reportedly was one of the Cougars who tested positive for COVID-19.
The Cougars’ last game was Nov. 14, a 43-29 loss at home to Oregon. Washington State was leading by 12 points late in the first half when the Ducks scored with three seconds remaining before intermission to reclaim the momentum.
“I don’t think they have a lot of fun sitting at home. I think this is a group that likes to be out there playing and competing,” Rolovich said. “I think they like the brand of football (they’re playing). Obviously we wanted to win (against) Oregon, but just the mindset of playing has taken hold in this group.”
USC (3-0) also had an unscheduled bye last week as its home game against Colorado — the only other unbeaten team in the Pac-12’s South Division — was called off.
The Trojans most recently played Nov. 21 at Utah, a 33-17 victory. Kedon Slovis was 24-of-35 passing for 264 yards and two touchdowns, and USC forced five turnovers.
“We played with a swagger, especially on defense,” said Trojans coach Clay Helton, whose team had to rally late for victories in its first two games against Arizona State and Arizona.
Sunday’s game originally was scheduled to be played Friday night, but USC had four positive COVID-19 cases and seven other players quarantined by contact tracing protocols.
The Trojans finally got back on the practice field Tuesday.
“We feel like we’ve done a good job of shutting this thing down, hopefully,” Helton said. “We’ll see how that progresses through the week, but to have (Monday) for our players with no positive tests, that was awesome.”
The Trojans remained below the conference-mandated minimum of seven scholarship linemen Tuesday, and Helton said they’re unlikely to be able to field a full scout team for practice this week.
“We are going to have to be creative,” Helton said. “You’re not going to be able to have enough bodies to have the amount of physical contact you need. It will not be a normal practice week for us.”
USC’s passing game has been balanced, with five different players with 13 or more receptions.
This will be the first meeting between the schools since 2018, when the Trojans won 39-36. USC leads the all-time series 59-10-4.
–Field Level Media