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Cougars ready for a breakthrough win over USC?

By Jim Moore

I know we lost, but that game against Auburn was the best one I’ve seen the Cougars play from start to finish in five years. They looked like a football team for four quarters.

If you had dropped into Jordan-Hare Stadium from a different planet Saturday night and didn’t know a thing about Auburn or Washington State, you would have thought the guys in the white uniforms had the better team.

We’d be talking about a seven-point win instead of a seven-point loss if you could take away Auburn’s 100-yard kickoff return and 75-yard touchdown run and Connor Halliday’s last interception.

Connor Halliday will have to play better than he did against Auburn if the Cougars are going to upset No. 25 USC. (AP)

That pick on first-and-goal when the Cougars were in position to tie the game 31-31 was maddening. But I’m not going to hammer Halliday for that. I did get a kick out of his explanation, saying he “underthrew” the ball. As I recall, there was one good guy in the area and three bad guys. I think he would have been picked off if he’d “overthrown” the ball, too.

Maybe this is what we’ll always get with Halliday – some spectacular throws along with some spectacularly silly throws. He was intercepted three times Saturday night, but it could have easily been five times were it not for a couple of drops by Auburn defenders.

I keep hoping he’ll get better in time. But I never want him to lose that gunslinger attitude of his. That’s part of what makes him tick. Then again, you might argue that that’s part of what makes him suck, and I wouldn’t have a good comeback.

I’d rather have a quarterback who thinks he can beat Alabama than one who’s tentative and unsure of himself. Guaranteed, Halliday thinks the Cougs can beat USC Saturday night. And I’m guessing that freshman cornerback Daquawn Brown feels the same way. Did you catch what one of his teammates said about Brown this week?

“I expect frustration from Marqise Lee because (Brown) is going to be in his face,” linebacker Darryl Monroe said.

Another teammate said that Brown is fearless. If I’m Lee, I’m thinking: “Daquawn Brown? Who’s he? I’m Marqise Lee, one of the best receivers in the country, and they’re the Cougs. We always own the Cougs.”

Lee will probably have a good night, but I’m looking forward to the matchup with Brown. If we’ve got a mini-Richard Sherman developing in the Palouse, count me in for that. A brash Cougar cornerback? Fantastic, bring it on.

I would think that USC would try to take advantage of a Cougars defense that allowed 297 rushing yards to Auburn. Maybe it was the Manny’s Pale Ales that fogged my recollection, but it didn’t seem like Washington State’s defense was that bad to me. I guess it was.

So look for the Trojans – whether Silas Redd is good to go or not – to run the ball more than they throw it, particularly because of the unsettled situation at quarterback.

Cody Kessler is supposed to start, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Max Wittek got the nod from coach Lane Kiffin, who has kept it a secret this week. Gotta hand it to Kiffin – sure would hate to reveal my starting quarterback to Washington State, a team we’ve had so many problems with over the years. Thing is, if either one of these guys was good, he would have taken the job by now, so that’s promising news for Brown and the Cougs.

When you combine quarterback uncertainty with a coach on the hot seat against a team that looks to be on the rise, it could be another Saturday night filled with possibilities for the Cougs.

Are they ready for a breakthrough win? Hell yes they are. Go Cougs.

Line: USC by 15.
Prediction: Cougs 27, Trojans 24.
Record against the spread: 1-0.