Last Friday’s #Pac12AfterDark didn’t disappoint, as USC (4-1, 2-1) fell to Washington State for the first time in 15 years. The 30-27 loss was USC’s first of the season, and put a hold on the Trojans’ College Football Playoff hopes – for now. USC’s trip to Pullman also added to an already lengthy list of injured players, with two starting offensive linemen the latest to get hurt.
Oregon State (1-4, 0-2) travels to Los Angeles in search of just its second win of the year and first in Pac-12 play. The Beavers defeated FCS opponent Portland State 35-32 in early September, but have since dropped three games in a row. Washington cruised last week with a 42-7 victory over OSU in Corvallis.
History hasn’t been kind to Oregon State in its matchups with USC. The Trojans hold a commanding 61-11-4 lead in a series that dates back to 1914. Oregon State last defeated USC in 2010, but the last Beavers’ win in Los Angeles happened way back in 1960.
Oregon State at USC
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: USC -34
Three Things to Watch
1. Sam Darold’s consistency
Darnold collected a cult-like following after a 2016 season that saw him throw for 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns and just nine interceptions as the catalyst for USC’s nine-game winning streak that culminated with a come-from-behind Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. The redshirt sophomore received copious amounts of hype entering the 2017 season, tabbed by many as the favorite for the Heisman Trophy as well as the top quarterback prospect for next year’s NFL draft.
While Darnold’s numbers this year are solid — 1,389 passing yards and nine touchdowns — his eight interceptions have called some to question his decision-making. In last week’s loss to Washington State, Darnold was 15-for-29 for 164 yards and an interception and he lost a fumble in the fourth quarter that helped seal the win for the Cougars. He also had two rushing touchdowns but most of the conversation in the aftermath of the game has been about his fumble and that he got outplayed by Washington State senior Luke Falk.
Darnold has yet to go a game this year without throwing an interception and his offensive line has been ravaged with injuries. Even against a team like Oregon State that does not match up well with USC on paper, it’s up to Darnold to take what the defense gives him, protect the football and try to not force the issue.
2. USC’s reconfigured offensive line
After boasting one of the nation’s top offensive lines last year, USC entered the season with notable absences due to graduation. Injuries to the position groups this season have forced head coach Clay Helton to dig deep into his roster to fill out his rotation.
Offensive tackle Toa Lobendahn missed the trip to Pullman last week with a staph infection, and tackle Chuma Edoga and guard Viane Talamaivao sustained injuries against the Cougars. Washington State ended the game with five quarterback hurries and two sacks of Darnold.
On Thursday it was annoucned that Talamaivao willl need season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Lobendahn is expected to play against the Beavers, but Edoga's status is still unknown.
Even with a makeshift offensive line, the Trojans ran for 163 yards and three scores against Washington State, while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Oregon State ranks near the bottom of FBS teams in rushing defense (202.2 ypg), so a heavy dose of Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr and the occasional run by Darnold would be a good way to try and wear the Beavers’ defense down while not taxing USC’s offensive line when it comes to pass protection.
3. Oregon State running back Thomas Tyner
Starting running back Ryan Nall exited last week’s game against Washington with an ankle injury and is listed as doubtful for Saturday. Enter Tyner, the former top recruit who started his collegiate career at Oregon. The nation’s No. 2 running back recruit in 2013, Tyner briefly retired from football last season before making his return and joining the Beavers.
Tyner began the year behind Nall on the depth chart, but could see plenty of work against USC if Nall’s unable to play. Tyner led the team with 54 rushing yards and a touchdown on nine carries last week against the Huskies after Nall got hurt. Tyner himself is finally healthy after dealing with hip flexor and hamstring injuries.
Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen (above, right) is in Year 3 of his tenure and enters this game with a record of 7-22 overall and 3-17 in Pac-12 play. To say his seat is warm would be an understatement. Unfortunately, next up for his Beavers is a trip to Los Angeles to face an angry USC team still smarting from last week’s loss to Washington State.
Saturday could offer the bounce-back performance Sam Darnold needs, as Oregon State ranks last in the conference in several categories, including scoring defense (46.4 ppg). Even with as many injuries as the Trojans are dealing with to say this is a mismatch, at least on paper, would be another understatement. USC gets back in the win column with a big win in the Coliseum.
Prediction: USC 49, Oregon State 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.