Thursday, January 26, 2023

Cougs to face off against new-look USC

Sports Reporter | October 6, 2022 2:56 PM

PULLMAN — With a 4-1 start to the year, Washington State University will now take on its toughest opponent to date – the sixth-ranked University of Southern California Trojans – on Saturday.

The Trojans, 5-0 on the year and 3-0 in Pac-12 play, revamped their team with the additions of head coach Lincoln Riley along with an array of transfers headlined by quarterback Caleb Williams.

“They have used the portal, and I think the biggest thing that doesn’t get enough attention is portal usage of quality for defensive players,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said of the USC transfers in a press conference Wednesday. “That’s the biggest thing when I watch them, I think everybody knew what they would be on offense with all the big names coming in, but the consistency that they’ve had defensively I think has been really impressive.”

The passing attack will test the Cougars’ secondary, who are allowing the second-most passing yards per game in the Pac-12. USC averages just under 300 passing yards per game, making it a matchup to watch. WSU defensive backs Chau Smith-Wade and Jaden Hicks are both tied for the team-high in interceptions with one each.

“It’s hard to debate, he’s probably been our best corner,” Dickert said of Smith-Wade's play through the first five games. “And I think that’s a great place to be for now and definitely for the future. He’s a competitor, he comes to work, he’s been physical and he’s been controlling the vertical pass game.”

Cougar quarterback Cameron Ward will need to take care of the ball on Saturday against a USC defense that leads the FBS in interceptions. Dickert called the receiver room the most improved since the beginning of the season on Wednesday, headlined by De’Zhaun Stribling, Donovan Ollie and Renard Bell who all have 20 or more catches and two or more touchdowns this season.

“They’ve just got some real good players,” Stribling said. “They have some athletes on the team, stuff like that. Nothing real crazy like that.”

The Trojans (19) and Cougars (18) check in with the most and second-most sacks in the conference entering Week 6, led by WSU linebacker Daiyan Henley’s four sacks in five games.

“Their O-line, especially their three interior, (are) really good,” said teammate Nusi Malani, a defensive tackle transfer from the University of Virginia. “Good with their hands, good technique.”

USC’s offense has lit up the scoreboards through the first five weeks, scoring 211 points for a 42.2 points per game average, both tops in the Pac-12. Williams, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma, has completed 107 of 159 passes this season for 1,402 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. On the ground, Williams has 44 carries for 144 yards and three touchdowns.

“Caleb Williams, the more I study him, he might be the best running back in the country,” Dickert said of the Trojans’ sophomore quarterback. “I mean, you can’t tackle this guy. His vertical step, he runs through so many tackles it’s incredible. His off-script is really good, and I think that’s the piece of it that you can’t gameplan for.”

Joining Williams in the Trojan backfield is Travis Dye, a transfer from Oregon who leads the Trojan offense in rushing yards and touchdowns. Dye is averaging 6.8 yards per carry through five games, and is coming off a two-touchdown performance against Arizona State last week.

“He’s one of those old school, just great players,” Dickert said of Dye. “He does it the hard way, and he’s physical and he’s got great speed and field vision. He could be looking at you, and he’s going to cut (the other way).”

Kickoff between the Cougars and Trojans is at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Los Angeles Coliseum. This is WSU’s second road game of the year, having won 17-14 at No. 19 Wisconsin on the road earlier this year.

“We’re on a business trip trying to get a win,” Dickert said. “We understand it, we know what we’re walking into. It’s a great college football environment, and that’s what makes college football special, but at the end of the day it’s about what happens in between these hundred yards.”

Ian Bivona may be reached at


WSU/courtesy photo

Defensive lineman Nusi Malani and the Cougar defense have the second-most sacks in the Pac-12 through five games with 18, one behind No. 6 USC’s 19 sacks.

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