The Cougars came through in shockingly great fashion Friday night, stunning fifth-ranked USC in a game that rearranged Washington State fans’ top-10 lists of all-time greatest games in school history.
In more than 40 years of following WSU football, the 30-27 win over USC goes somewhere in my top 10, I just don’t know where, and it doesn’t really matter — it was good enough to always be remembered. Even if you weren’t at Martin Stadium, you’ll remember where you were when you watched the Cougs beat a fifth-ranked team for the first time since they defeated the Dawgs in the ’92 Snow Bowl.
Maybe I’m overstating it since oddsmakers pegged the Trojans as only five-point favorites. Certainly the Cougs have won before as five-point underdogs — even 15-point underdogs — but there was still something about this one. It was USC, a team WSU had not beaten in Pullman since 2002, and a matchup that held a 57-9-4 edge over the Cougars in the all-time series. It was nationally televised by ESPN, and it featured the supposedly top-ranked quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft in Sam Darnold.
Since I’ve seen the Cougars in this position so many times in the past (and not responded in a positive way) I thought they would lose, and predicted a final score of 41-27, USC. But this time, they produced a performance on both sides of the ball that was too much for the Trojans and their quarterback, who either had a bad night or is vastly overrated.
The Cougar defense had something to do with it, too, but whatever the case, this business of Sam Darnold as a Heisman Trophy candidate and/or No. 1 overall draft choice ended with a thud Friday night. And it was a big one: Jahad Wood with a strip sack, followed by Derek Moore recovering for the Cougars, it was lights out for the Trojans.
Along with my kids, I rushed the field like the 60-year-old fool that I am, though to use the word “rushed” is inaccurate. If it’s possible to “limp” or “hobble” the field, that’s closer to what I did. But it was fun to see my boys getting their picture taken with Marcellus Pippins and Jamir Calvin.
Smiling, drunken strangers were hugging other — drunken strangers — all happy Cougs after Washington State improved to 5-0. And now, everyone is wondering where Mike Leach’s team will be ranked when the polls come out on Sunday. How high do you climb from No. 16 after you beat the fifth-best team in the country? I’d guess 12, but the top 10 is a possibility.
This may be short-lived if the Ducks beat WSU next week in Eugene, but for now it’s fair to call Washington State a national-championship contender. Laugh if you want, chuckle if you want, you can even snicker, but the Cougs are undefeated and just beat a team with a 13-game winning streak, and the better team won the game. The Cougars didn’t get lucky to beat the Trojans; you could even argue they should have won more convincingly if they didn’t have four or five drops by their receivers and a dropped interception in the end zone that could have turned into a 101-yard pick six.
We’ll see if the Cougars can keep it up. They have yet to play a road game and have two in a row against Oregon and Cal. But all signs are positive after an improbable win over USC.