PULLMAN — How rare is a Washington State victory over Southern California?
Here’s some historical perspective: Two of the past three times WSU beat USC, the Cougars wound up playing in the Rose Bowl. And as Cougar fans know, Rose Bowl appearances are extremely rare.
The last such triumph over the Trojans was a 30-27 thriller in 2002, the Cougars winning thanks to Drew Dunning’s 35-yard field goal in overtime. A capacity crowd of 36,861 jammed Martin Stadium for that occasion, and many of them spilled onto the field after Dunning’s kick split the uprights.
Led by quarterback Jason Gesser and a salty defense, the Cougars soared as high as No. 3 in the national rankings and lost only once the rest of the season — an overtime classic against Washington. They wound up matched with Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans also finished with just one conference loss, but settled for the Orange Bowl because WSU’s head-to-head victory gave the Cougars the tiebreaker.
Nearly eleven years have passed since that October day in Pullman, where fans might not have believed it would be at least a decade-plus until the Cougars again found a way to knock off the Trojans, as they have just eight times in the history of the series. There have also been four ties, and USC has won the other 57 games. The past three have been particularly bleak: USC steam rolled the Cougars, 50-16, in 2010, and preceded a more modest 27-6 victory in 2009 with a 69-0 pummeling in 2008.
But a scheduling quirk has kept these teams from playing since 2010. That’s probably a good thing. Proof? WSU quarterback Connor Halliday said earlier this week that “half those kids wouldn’t have started for a good high school football team” in 2010.
“We haven’t played SC in a while and the last time I played them we lost I think 59-14,” said Halliday, giving the Trojans a tad too much credit. “So I mean, yeah, (I’m) real excited to play them and real excited to play in the (L.A.) Coliseum.”
A confluence of forces has combined to make some believe the Cougars just might have the proper recipe to claim their ninth win ever over the Trojans. Or at least make things interesting.
First, there was USC’s lackluster 30-13 victory at Hawaii, which was somewhat marred by shaky quarterback play and a few dropped passes that might have helped balloon the winning margin.
Then there was WSU’s better-than-expected showing at Auburn, a 31-24 loss that many wearing crimson believed should have been a victory.
The players certainly did. Sophomore linebacker Darryl Monroe led a group of WSU players into Monday’s press conference who sounded more confident than anyone who has worn a WSU jersey in the past five years.
Monroe speaks often of “distractions” — outside forces such as game-day atmosphere, venue or perceived quality of opponent. So don’t expect him get all starry-eyed talking about the tradition-bathed Trojans.
“As soon as coach (Mike) Leach got this job, that was one of the main focuses: fight adversity, eliminate distractions,” Monroe said. “That’s what we do. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the temperature. We can’t control anything other than what we can do, so why not worry about what we can control and just block out everything else?”
Leach has never coached a team in the Coliseum, but did attend a Los Angeles Raiders game there while attending law school at Pepperdine. He recalled that a fan wore a San Diego Chargers T-shirt to that day’s game, a wardrobe selection to which the locals did not take kindly.
“By the time the Raider fans were done, they’d ripped off the guy’s T-shirt and passed it up and thrown it over the back of the Coliseum,” Leach said. “At least for Raiders games, it was a pretty lively place. So we’re looking forward to it.”