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USC-Washington State: A look at how the teams match up

USC-Washington State: A look at how the teams match up
Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew II throws a pass during the second half against Eastern Washington in Pullman, Wash., on Sept. 15. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

USC (1-2, 0-1) vs. Washington State (3-0, 0-0)

Friday, 7:30 p.m., Coliseum. TV: ESPN. Radio: 710.

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Marquee matchup

USC offensive line vs. Washington State defensive front: For a USC offensive line that features three senior starters in center Toa Lobendahn, left guard Chris Brown and right tackle Chuma Edoga, Friday night’s game against Washington State represents 60 minutes of gut-check time. In the first two games, the line struggled with pass protection and left the team’s freshman quarterback vulnerable too often. Against Texas, JT Daniels had more time to pass, but USC could not get anything going on the ground, finishing with a jaw-dropping minus-five yards rushing. The Trojans desperately need the line to figure out where its communication issues lie and get on the same page so that USC can bring a more balanced attack and relieve pressure on Daniels to do everything. Washington State brings a stingy front that has helped the Cougars rank third nationally in total defense. They have given up 98.7 yards rushing a game. USC can hope that the Cougars are due for a reckoning because of their soft schedule — at Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington.

Getting offensive

USC (383.3 ypg/20 ppg): The Trojans have been on the edge of a breakthrough in their losses but have failed to get the tough yards to push them through this early season wall. Against Stanford, USC trailed 7-0 and was driving near the end of the first half and could not get a conversion on third and two with a Stephen Carr run, forcing a fourth down that went bad. Against Texas in the second quarter, the Trojans led 14-13 facing fourth and goal from the one and ran a toss sweep to Carr, who could not get outside. Here’s a bet: To win, USC is going to have to get tough yards Friday.

Washington State (501 ypg/43.7 ppg): Graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II has been a pleasant surprise, but credit should also go to running backs James Williams and Max Borghi, who have combined for 29 receptions and provide Minshew a security blanket when downfield routes are covered.

Getting defensive

USC (380.3 ypg/25 ppg): The Trojans have to get off the field. The unit is sound until the plays that matter most. Texas converted 10 of 19 third downs and had a third-and-long conversion on all three of its touchdown drives. The USC defense feels close to being very good but has to take the next step to get there.

Washington State (231.3 ypg/14.3 ppg): The Cougars don’t get nearly enough credit for their defense. They’re led by sophomore safety Skyler Thomas, a Riverside native and Citrus Hill High product who has made 23 tackles.

Something special

With Chase McGrath sidelined for the season because of a knee injury, sophomore kicker Michael Brown will get his chance for the Trojans. Brown sat out last season because of a knee injury.

Of note

Washington State has 33 players from Southern California on its roster.

Injury report

USC entered the week with questions about right guard Andrew Vorhees, defensive tackle Malik Dorton and inside linebacker John Houston, but all practiced during the week. Running back Aca’Cedric Ware has been playing through knee pain for a few weeks and was limited earlier in the week. USC coach Clay Helton said that Ware “looked better” Wednesday.

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