By Gary Klein
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — It’s been awhile, but USC will finally get a look at — and a test against — improved Washington State in a Pac-12 Conference opener Saturday at the Coliseum.
Because of Pac-12 scheduling rotations, USC is playing the Cougars for the first time in three years. And Washington State under pass-happy second-year Coach Mike Leach appears to be a different program than it was under former coach Paul Wulff.
In 2010, USC defeated the undermanned Cougars, 50-16, at Pullman, Wash.
“To be frank with you, we actually have a decent amount of Pac-12 talent,” quarterback Connor Halliday told reporters Monday. “That team in 2010, half those kids wouldn’t have started for a good high school team.
“We actually have some guys that can play at this level now.”
Halliday, a fourth-year junior, completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown, with three interceptions, in Washington State’s 31-24 loss at Auburn on Saturday. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Halliday was one attempt shy of matching the school record set by Drew Bledsoe against Montana in 1992.
Washington State generated 464 yards at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I thought they threw the ball awesome,” USC Coach Lane Kiffin said Sunday. “The quarterback … really was in rhythm.”
Kiffin also noted that Washington State’s offensive line played well “at a hard place to play against a good defensive line. So I’ve got a lot of concerns with how their offense looked.”
Last season, Washington State averaged 29 yards rushing per game, which ranked last among 120 major college teams. The Cougars also gave up a 4.75 sacks a game, worst in the nation.
Against Auburn, the Cougars rushed for 120 yards and gave up only two sacks.
Gabe Marks, a sophomore who played at Venice High, caught nine passes for 81 yards. Bobby Ratliff, a junior from Etiwanda High, caught three passes for 66 yards, including a touchdown.
Teondray Caldwell, a sophomore who played at Venice, rushed for 53 yards in seven carries. Sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa rushed for two touchdowns
Halliday and Leach said they expected USC to present defensive looks similar to those they faced last season against California, where Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast coached from 2010-12. Cal defeated the Cougars, 31-17.
“They’re probably going to blitz a little more than we saw [against Auburn],” Washington State offensive lineman Elliott Bosch said.
Leach has never coached at the Coliseum and has been there only once for a football game. He said he was a law school student when he saw the Los Angeles Raiders play at the stadium.
Leach vividly recalled how Raiders fans relieved a San Diego Chargers fan of his jersey and discarded it in pieces as it was passed through the crowd.
So Leach said he expected a lively crowd Saturday.
USC has not lost to Washington State since 2002, when the Cougars defeated the Trojans, 30-27, in overtime at Pullman, Wash. USC has not lost at home to Washington State since a 33-27 defeat in 2000.