Two pivotal early series kept WSU Cougars in the hunt in their 30-27 upset win against USC

PULLMAN — At the end of the night, the scoreboard read Washington State 30, USC 27, and pandemonium ensued as the students stormed the field and the players mingled with their peers in a crimson-and-gray mosh pit.

WSU, ranked 16th coming into Friday night’s colossal matchup against No. 5 USC, had just pulled off the biggest upset in 25 years of Cougar football.

This was not, by any means, an easy win, and two series, one on offense and one on defense made the difference early on to help the Cougars get to halftime with the score tied 17-17.

But first, to set the stage.

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The Cougars’ offense once again fell victim to a slow start, something that has plagued them for most of the season.

“I thought we started slow but got on track. I thought the ball didn’t roll our direction in the first half and we fought through that,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “But it’s always gonna be a battle when you play a team of that quality.”

While the defense held its own against the Trojan offense for most of the first half, one big breakdown in the second quarter cost them dearly. On third and four from the Trojans’ own 14, running back Ronald Jones II somehow found a hole on the right side and he turned on the afterburners and outran the entire WSU defense on an 86-yard touchdown run that put USC up 14-10.

No big deal right?

Sure. But after taking a holding penalty on the end of Robert Taylor’s kickoff return, the Cougars started their offensive drive deep in their own territory on the 10-yard line.

Then, to compound matters, on the very first play of that drive, USC’s Uchenna Nwosu – who entered the game with a team-high eight pass breakups – picked off Luke Falk at close range.

Suddenly, the Trojans’ offense had the ball at the WSU 3-yard line in what appeared to be a surefire touchdown situation. A touchdown would have put them up 21-10 on WSU midway…

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