Washington State’s (less) finesse offensive line against the power of the USC Trojans front-7, this is going to be the most interesting matchup of the football game for me.
Washington State threw 65 passes last Saturday at Auburn and the offensive line was simply outstanding, giving up a mere two sacks in the game, with one coming by way of intentional grounding from a miscommunication on a route. In fact, Connor Halliday only ended up on the turf a handful of times against the athletic defensive line and linebacking core of Auburn, which was impressive with the knowledge that WSU gave up an average of more than 5 sacks per game last season.
Halliday’s notably improved pocket awareness is partially to credit, but overall the line is just better at communication pre-play, which is something that both RT Rico Forbes and C Elliot Bosch commented on in the Fall. But can they continue to be that efficient against the much more aggressive 5-2 defense of USC? The Trojans plan to add an extra body at the line of scrimmage (as opposed to the 2nd level) so picking up blitzes will be even more difficult if Halliday doesn’t see them coming and get rid of the ball early.
USC tallied 7 sacks against Hawaii Warriors quarterback Taylor Graham and forced him into several mistakes. They are powerful up front with Leonard Williams, George Uko and Hayes Pullard and will constantly try and create uncomfortable situations against Halliday. They love stunting and dropping their ends into coverage while having one of their backers come somewhere down the line, so recognition will be very important if the Cougs are to avoid a similar fate to Hawaii.
This is going to be a very interesting chess match, as we know Connor is free to check if he sees the blitz early enough and the Cougs generally go with a zone blocking protection. If I were to guess, I’d say USC will get there 5 times to take Halliday down. Hopefully though, WSU doesn’t get too caught in mind games with the USC front line and just plays solid enough to allow Halliday to exploit the young back end of the defense.