September 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars cornerback Damante Horton (6) intercepts a pass against the Southern California Trojans during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Washington State (1-1,1-0) gave #22 USC (1-1,0-1) all they could handle Saturday night in the Los Angeles Coliseum. In fact, USC couldn’t find a way to handle the Cougs.
Final score: WSU 10 – USC 7
Despite numerous plays where WSU failed to execute offensively, the Cougar D dominated the Trojans to win the day.
This game was all about playing smash-mouth defense for four quarters of football. Both teams exchanged blows that sent the opponent to the mat…er, turf.
Coach Mike Leach was animated immediately following the final whistle signaling a Cougar victory which leveled their season record at 1-1 and placed them atop the Pac-12 conference standings.
Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach looks on from the sidelines during the first half against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
"“It’s a big win,” Leach said in post-game comments. “This was a game contested by the two D-lines…and I’m just prouder than hell we have our D-line.”"
What Leach didn’t say must be pointed out.
Coach Mike Breske had the defensive unit well prepared and consistently made the right scheme calls the entire night.
In what was a tremendous team effort by the Cougar D, senior Damante Horton earned headline notation with two interceptions near the end of both halves. Horton stepped up for a pick-six with just :27 left in the first half which tied the ballgame 7-7 at intermission. As dramatic as his interception was in sending WSU into the locker room with hard earned momentum, his second INT sealed the conference victory for Washington State.
September 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) is brought down by Southern California Trojans linebacker Morgan Breslin (91) during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Going deep into the second half, the Cougar D forced USC to punt the ball with 6:18 remaining. Junior Connor Halliday used the Air Raid efficiently to march down the field 56-yards before the drive stalled. Senior kicker Andrew Furney calmed strolled onto the field and converted a 41-yard field goal to put his team up 10-7.
There was still 3:03 left on the game clock which was just enough time for more dramatics by Horton.
A 2nd and 10 pass by USC relief quarterback Max Wittek sailed well beyond the reach of everyone’s favorite Trojan, Marqise Lee. The officials flagged the Cougs for pass interference on the play to pump some life into the USC offense who was gasping air. Last year WSU players may have thought, “Here we go again.”
That was then. This is now.
The next play Wittek was harrassed by a Cougar D that had the right blitz dialed up. Horton stepped in front of a poorly thrown ball for his second pick to snuff out any life left in USC.
"“I was proud of the composure of our guys to hang in there and something was going to happen sooner or later.” – Coach Mike Leach"
When was the last time USC was held to under 200-yards of total offense for 60-minutes? Answer: September 7, 2013 by WSU
Coach Breske had his guys in position to stifle All American candidate Lee. The players in crimson helmets frustrated Lee all night long. Lee was stymied to the extent that he brought out the final kickoff by Mike Bowlin from 5-yards deep. Cougar kickoff coverage smothered him on the USC 12-yard placing his team 88-yards away from scoring.
When was the last time a Mike Leach offense was held to 222 total yards? Answer: September 7, 2013 by USC
Halliday was hurried, harassed, hit and sacked by a very talented USC front seven time and time again. He finished completing 26 of 38 pass attempts for just 215-yards.
Let me help with the math.
The other 7-yards of offense was contributed by the Cougar ground game on 22 carries.
September 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) celebrates the 10-7 victory against the Southern California Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Connor Halliday didn’t have a good game. He wasn’t able to deliver a performance to silence critics. But when it counted most at the end of the game, Halliday didn’t make a mistake to deny his team the chance to win a football game. The guy took more hits than Muhammad Ali going into rope-a-dope defense.
Halliday maintained the poise necessary when it counted most.
Cougar football took a big step forward Saturday night. The team played with an attitude absent from the Palouse over the past decade. And the team did it in front of 77,823 hugely disappointed USC fans.