• John Skinner

2017 Washington State Preview

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

Loss of tight-end Carey Angeline is a big deal- Redshirt freshman Carey Angeline had a reputation with his teammates for catching everything in practice with defensive backs stating he was “unguardable” and a future “first rounder” due to his height and athleticism (6’7, 240).  He was projected to play a prominent role in the tight-end rotation this season, especially with Daniel Imatorbhebhe injured. However, his playing time was limited and he felt he would never get a true shot to play and has left the team. Apparently, he isn’t the only one frustrated by this development.  Many of his teammates and even some of the coaches have wondered off-the record why he didn’t get more opportunities this season.  He struggled with blocking technique and learning some of the playbook but his talent for pass-catching should have netted him more opportunities.  Tight-ends with his combination of athleticism and size are tough to find.  He will most likely end up at Penn State who has not been shy in letting him know that he was being underutilized.  The loss of Angeline is a reminder of how good former tight-end and eventual all-pro Jordan Cameron looked in practice, yet was under-utilized in games by Pete Carroll & company.

Difficult to play back-to-back road games- A professional sports gambler would tell you that one of the best bets you can make is against a college team in the second game of a back-to-back road trip.  A shortened week of preparation also stacks the deck with one less preparation day for the Cougars.  The environment in Pullman will be loud and electric which is something the Trojans didn’t deal with at Cal.  This will also be WSU’s fifth straight home game. Bottom line- Even if the Trojans win another ugly game, it will be a major victory considering the circumstance.

Avoiding a slow start vs. Cougars is key- Through four weeks, Washington State (WSU) has averaged 24 points per game before halftime.  During this stretch, they are outscoring opponents 87-19.  SC is only averaging 12 points per game in the first half.  SC can’t afford to fall behind by a large margin early, especially with top receiver Deontay Burnett banged up.

WSU- offense- The #16 ranked (4-0) Cougars will be the best offense the Trojans have faced all year.  They are led by Senior All-American candidate QB Luke Falk who leads the nation in completion percentage (77%) and has already thrown 14 TD passes (2nd in the nation) with only 1 interception.  Head Coach Mike Leach’s fast-paced air-raid offense has an added wrinkle this year.  They are throwing to the running back twice as much as in the past.  Running back James Williams is 5th in the nation in receptions (37) and has caught 3 TD passes.  Receivers Tavares Martin Jr. and Isiah Johnson-Mack are solid pass catchers and will give the SC secondary all they can handle.

SC defensive game-plan- Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast seems to have figured out these fast-paced, throw it 80% of the time offenses better than most.  SC employed a dime package against Cal with great effectiveness and we expect to see more of that look on Friday night. Boise State had success pressuring WSU without having to blitz so expect SC to do something similar.  Falk is a momentum QB. He is prone to get down on himself and compound mistakes if SC can pressure him into bad throws. On the flip side, if he can establish a good rhythm, SC will be in trouble.

WSU- defense- Leach is not known for having great defenses, but this is one of the most talented defensive groups he has coached.  They rank 12th nationally in overall defense (262 yards per game) as well as pass defense.

SC offensive game-plan- SC will look to run the ball and also get Darnold out of the pocket more than they have in prior games. Look for the offense to be a bit more conservative with more throws to the tight-end and swing passes to RB Stephen Carr.  The Trojans will still attack over-the-top but the coaching staff strongly feels they will be able to run the ball effectively and not need to take unnecessary risks.  The hope is the running game and short passing game will draw the Cougar secondary in and then allow for longer passing plays later in the game.

Red-zone efficiency must improve- During the first four games, SC is 73rd nationally in red-zone efficiency and something the Trojans specifically addressed this week in practice.  Last year, the Trojans were one of the best teams in the nation in the red-zone when Darnold took over at QB.

Stephen Carr’s role in passing game set to increase- SC is going to start increasing the number of times it targets Stephen Carr in the passing game.  He has been very effective catching the out of the back-field and almost always makes the first or second defender miss.  He is seeing more reps in practice where he is split out wide and has some of the best hands on the team.  Look for him to possibly run a few go-routes to stretch the Cougar defense.

Don’t try and be superman Sam- Sam Darnold needs to get back to reacting to what the defense gives him.  He doesn’t have the mature receivers he had last season that made big-time plays on 50/50 balls.  Nothing wrong with the short throw to the tight-end and softening up the defense for bigger plays later in the game…Against Cal, Darnold was 1-10 for 14 yards on throws of 11+ yards.  This statistic must improve for SC to stay in the national playoff picture.

Geller’s Take: “Next Man Up” Volume 3- Five weeks into the 2017 season without a BYE week—and none to come—has been rough. The Trojans survived Cal and the newly injured list was significantly shorter than post-Texas; however, receiver Deontay Burnett is among the short list with a separated shoulder. Although coach Clay Helton said Burnett will play, he is going to need help and the answer is redshirt freshman Tyler Vaughns, who surfaced with 3 catches for 32 yards in the win at Cal. Vaughns has been blowing up in practice this week and showing off his incredible athleticism and great hands. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the first sell-out crowd/crazy environment of his career—but given the questionable status of Burnett and Steven Mitchell, and the mediocrity of the Cougars’ secondary, it could be a major coming out party for Tyler Vaughns.  -Austin Geller is a senior at St. Monica Catholic High School and USCfootball.com intern.

Betting trends- SC is currently a 4 point favorite after the lined opened at 5.5. SC is 8-5 against the spread (ATS) during its current 13 game win streak.  This year, SC is 1-3 ATS while the Cougars are 2-2.  The total is set for 65 and the under is 3-1 in the last four games they have played against each other.  Historically, the Cougars are a favorable match-up, with SC 9-1 Straight up and 7-3 ATS in the last 10.  Though SC fans view the weeknight game negatively, WSU is just 1-7 under Mike Leach when playing on a Thursday or Friday night and 1-4 when playing on short rest.  SC is 3-1 in its last four Friday night road games…

Quick-hitters

*Left-tackle Toa Lobendahn did not make the trip to Pullman per multiple online reports this morning.

*Rain is expected in the second half Friday night in Pullman…

*Top tight-end target Daniel Imatorbhebhe will either be back around the Notre Dame game or out for the year as a set-back in rehab might mean a more significant injury to his upper leg.

*Starting running back Ronald Jones III will return against the Cougars.  He won’t be 100% so expect Stephen Carr to possibly get more carries.

*SC is closing out games strong…They have now outscored opponents 62-31 in the 4th quarter.

Carol Skinner Memorial tid-bit(s)- Cornerback Jack Jones, who had two interceptions against Cal, was named Pac-12 Defensive player of the week… Defensive end Christian Rector’s two forced fumbles are tied for the second most in the nation… Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu is tied for first in the country with 8 pass break-ups.  His ability to deflect passes will be extremely important this week.