Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#141 Southern California (USC) vs.
#142 Washington State
Saturday, September 18, 2021 at 3:30pm EDT
Written by Eric P.

The Washington State Cougars play host to the Southern California Trojans on Saturday afternoon from Gesa Field in a crucial PAC 12 tilt. Even though their records haven't reflected it thus far, both these teams were picked on opposite ends of the conference spectrum in the preseason poll. Washington State was projected to finish last in the PAC 12 North, while USC was a heavy favorite to win the South and was expected to finish second overall. So far, it hasn't necessarily gone according to plan. Washington State enters 1-1 with their lone win coming against an FCS foe, while the Trojans enter with the same record but are coming off a stunning opening PAC 12 loss to Stanford. Both teams are neck and neck across most categories and the question will be exactly which USC team fans see on Saturday. In the opener, they looked dominant, but against Stanford, they looked like the same inconsistent team of years past. Without high expectations for Washington State, the Cougars will have nothing to lose at home in an important conference opener for themselves. Given the conference ramifications at stake, Saturday's game promises to be one to tune in for.

Trojans In Turmoil

While the Trojans wish the focus could be on their state of play, the focus this last week has instead been on the state of the program. After Saturday's surprise defeat to Stanford, Clay Helton was fired this week to put an end to one of the most up and down coaching jobs in sports. The focus has now shifted to who is likely to be hired and how Done Williams will do as the interim head coach having to go on the road. USC season had high hopes but Saturday's loss has already put some difficulty in their ability to win their division unless Williams can prove to be a mastermind on both sides of the ball. In the opener against San Jose State, the Trojans appeared to win with ease, but still allowed 376 yards to San Jose State but were strong to keep their rushing game at bay. Against Stanford, they again outperformed their opponent in total yards but struggled to finish drives and couldn't do much of anything to slow down the Cardinals' offense. Inconsistencies have plagued this team for years and until they get hold of knowing what to expect when they take the field, it's hard to back them.

Kedon Slovis remains the leader of the offense and even despite the struggles, is still one of the most talented quarterbacks in the PAC 12. He's averaging 239.50 passing yards per game and has three touchdowns compared to one interception. In the backfield, the two-headed monster of Vavae Malepeai (79.5 yards/game) and Keaontay Ingram (65 yards/game), continues to keep defenses off-balance. Drake London is elite on the outside though, averaging 102.5 yards/game at WR, while Memphis-transfer Tahj Washington has made himself know on the West Coast, second on the team in catches and yards. The offense will move the ball but the issue is if they can make the most of their drives and find the end zone.

Defensively, it's been a year of question marks for the Trojans. They rank 80th nationally in points allowed per game and have yet to see even one of the West Coasts' best offenses. They're yet to record a sack in two games and without putting pressure on the quarterback, are getting torched in coverage. Despite all the experience within the secondary, nobody can be expected to guard in coverage as long as they're being expected to right now. With Washington State's offense, this could be an issue on Saturday afternoon. Three players are tied with ten tackles each to lead the defense, but Williams will be looking to make it a point for someone to step up on that side of the ball and control the line of scrimmage going forward.

Cougars Look For Crucial Pac12 Win

Washington State didn't look great in their opener against Utah State but at least they have the fact that they're playing at home for the second straight week and have some continuity in the coaching ranks to look at as a positive. In year one under Nick Rolovich last season, the Cougars went 1-3 overall, only taking down Oregon State in their season opener. It wasn't pretty for a team that had seemed to make big strides under Mike Leach. The hope is that with more steady practice time and more consistent repetitions at practice and in games, this team should be far better prepared for the rest of the season. Having to welcome USC, even despite their off-the-field distractions, won't be easy at all. The Trojans have won the last two games in the series, with the Cougars' last win coming back in 2017, which also happened to be the last time the two teams met in Pullman, Washington. The offense and defense will need to massively step up though if they want to jump out to their PAC 12 win and send USC further into a tailspin.

Washington State is averaging 33.50 points per game but with 44 points coming against Portland State, it's tough to know exactly what this offense is capable of. Much was expected of Tennessee-transfer Jarrett Guarantano heading into the year, but it's been Jayden de Laura who has been the leader out of the gates at quarterback. In two games, he's combined for 458 yards passing and four touchdowns, while adding another 65 yards on the ground. The rushing attack has become much more imperative under the new regime and Max Borghi leads the way with 72.50 yards per game. The Trojans have been suspect in their pass defense but strong on the ground, so if Washington State can make waves with Borghi, it could be a tough day for USC. Calvin Jackson Jr, son of the late Hall of Famer, Calvin Jackson, has made himself known in his graduate campaign. In two games, he has ten catches for 168 yards and a touchdown, with seven of those catches coming in the Utah State game. The offense will be up for the challenge and if they can make the most out of their opportunities as Stanford did, have a good chance to stay competitive.

Defensively, it's a concern that Washington State still gave up 24 points to Portland State and another 26 points to Utah State. While in the past that wouldn't matter based on their style of play, this offense is going to have a hard time scoring in the thirties every night. Much like USC, Washington State also struggles to get to the quarterback, with just two sacks on the season. Justus Rogers has been a monster already this season and has 1.5 tackles for loss, 11 tackles overall, and has added an interception and a forced fumble. Another name that fans can expect to hear is Jahad Woods, who leads the team with 18 total tackles. As a whole, the defense returns ten starters from last year's team and what they lack in some talent and athleticism, they more than makeup for in experience. Playing off the home crowd's energy as well, they have a good chance to make things uncomfortable in the secondary for the Trojans on Saturday night.

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Full-Game Side Bet

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Southern California has looked up and down already through two weeks this season, but with everything that's happened to the team this week, fans can expect them to bring some fight to the program. It's important to remember that just a few weeks ago, people were propping up the Trojans for taking down the defending MWC champs with some ease. The Stanford game wasn't pretty, but the Trojans still have the majority of the talent on their side of the field and the momentum in the series, having just dominated the Cougars at the tail end of last season. With Washington State's limited ability to rush the quarterback, it makes sense that Slovis will have plenty of time in the pocket to make his throws and as long as he's smart, will be able to navigate the different looks that get thrown at him. The ground game is the biggest advantage for the Trojans. Through the first two games, they've dominated their opponents on the ground and if they can do so again on Saturday, will have the time of possession advantage as well. The Trojans are in turmoil without doubt, but that doesn't mean that they still don't have the talent to easily cover against a team predicted to be near the bottom of the PAC 12 when it's all said and done.

Prediction: Southern California (-8.5)

Full-Game Total Pick

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Both of these offenses have been associated with quite a few points over the last few years but the game has shifted for each in 2021. With Williams now at the helm for USC, expect more on the ground and trying to outwork and outclass their opponents. For Washington State, Borghi remains their best player, so having him get a heavy dose of rushing attempts seems likely as well. In the series between the two teams, 62 points have only been scored twice in the last seven contests. For USC, they only had 62 points scored in two of their six games last season. Additionally, according to covers.com, for USC, the under is 4-1 in their last five games following a straight-up loss, is 4-1 in their last five games in September, is 4-1 in their last five games on field turf. In addition, over just the last five meetings between the two teams, the under is 4-1.

Prediction: Under 62
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Written By Eric Ploch , "Eric P."

Eric grew up surrounded by sports, whether it was spending the weekend catching games in person or on tv, or heading out to the fields to play whatever sport was in season. What started as a hobby, soon became a passion, as he became the sports editor of his high school newspaper, then wrote for his university newspaper during his undergrad years. After obtaining a degree in Sports Operations and Promotions, and spending 8 years deeply immersed in the sports world, Eric decided to take his love for analytics and predictions, and his experience, to online sports fans everywhere. James is now an integral part of our team here at StatSalt and has also been a very successful sports bettor over the years. Be sure and follow him daily.