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Opponent Q&A: Talking USC Trojans football

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How hot is the seat for Clay Helton?

NCAA Football: Washington State at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week we talked with Matthew Lowry (@MattALowry), editor for the SB Nation community Conquest Chronicles (@CChroniclesSBN) regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:

UWDP: Sounds like quarterback Kedon Slovis is still in the concussion protocol. Is it looking like its going to be Matt Fink starting on Saturday? Who is the back up now? How has the pass protection been for USC so far?

Matthew Lowry: At this rate it’s going to be Matt Fink as the starter heading into Saturday’s game. Slovis hasn’t been cleared yet and with us close to game week, I don’t see him playing. Fink’s backup will be Brandon Perdue who is a walk on safety for the Trojans. The Trojans pass protection has been pretty interesting. BYU gave the Trojans offensive line fits by just rushing three while Utah just was a handful. They’re going to be a key factor in this game.

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UWDP: USC has some great wideouts lead by Michael Pittman, Jr. and Tyler Vaughns. Who are some other top receivers and tight ends who will be challenging a young UW secondary?

Matthew: Amon-Ra St. Brown and freshman Drake London are two names that fans should keep their eye on. St. Brown had a solid game against Utah while London is improving and seeing a larger role in the passing game. Both could give this young Huskies secondary some trouble.

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UWDP: Vavae Malepeai is the Trojans’ leading rusher with 311 yards and a 4.5 ypc average. Describe his running style. Who else might we see carry the ball? How has the offensive line performed in the running game?

Matthew: His running style brings a mixture of speed and power. Malepeai will get tough yards for the Trojans on those 2nd/3rd and short situations. He’s just a hard nosed running that can break tackles. Another running back that could see some carries is Markese Stepp. While the run game had issues against Utah last week, Stepp provided some key carries to give the Trojans the win. Currently he’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry and against UW’s run defense USC need his production. So far the line against the run has been average at best. Against Utah they struggled just to get positive yardage and against BYU they couldn’t even take advantage of a 3 man front. Again the offensive line will make the difference in this game.

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UWDP: USC ranks 90th nationally in total defense and 90th against the pass (84th against the run). They are better in points allowed at 57th in the nation. How has the unit performed as a whole? Tell us about some of the top players on that side of the ball for the Trojans.

Matthew: The USC defense has been very underwhelming and it’s been frustrating. The defensive line been outstanding this season against the inside run and creating pressure but they’ve also had issues tackling, containing the outside runs, and containing scrambling quarterbacks. They also haven’t limited the big play. They’ve allowed 64 plays of 10 yards or more this season. Saturday, Clancy Pendergast will have to get his defense in order or risk it being a long afternoon. One issue that they’re also going to face is being without two key players in the secondary. Talanoa Hufanga is in concussion protocol while Olaijah Griffin haven’t been cleared yet with back spasms from last weeks game.

Utah v USC
True freshman Drake Jackson has three sacks and 17 tackles on the season.

Drake Jackson has been outstanding off the edge for the Trojans. He has been one of the defensive MVP’s on this team. Christian Rector on the opposite side has done a very good job creating pressure as well. He will be vital against the Washington offense this week. Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote has started to pick up his play though the linebacker must bring more production to the defense.

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UWDP: Clay Helton still has a job after last season which was surprising to many. How is the fanbase feeling about Helton?

Matthew: Right now, about the same. The win against Utah May have slowed things down, however it would be different if the team defeated BYU two weeks ago. A loss to Washington will bring back those talks despite the team having a winning record going into the Bye week. Would a win change things? That remains to be seen.

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UWDP: What is your prediction for this game?

Matthew: This will be a very tough game for the Trojans. I believe Washington is the best team on this half of the schedule from an overall balance standpoint. USC has yet to show that they’re an improved team on the road. While Fink has certain capabilities that can help the USC offense, there’s too many questions about this team that makes me believe that they get it done on the road against a better opponent in Washington.

I have the Huskies winning this one 38-20.

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Thanks Matthew. For more on the game from the USC perspective, check out Conquest Chronicles.