LOS ANGELES – Washington State football fans got a glimpse of the future Saturday night, and they had to like what they saw.
The present, however, remains a bit gloomy.
True freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel showed off a strong arm and quick feet in his college debut, but the 12th-ranked USC Trojans raced to a 20-0 lead in the first 13 minutes and downed Washington State, 27-6, at Memorial Coliseum.
The Trojans, coming off a 16-13 loss at Washington, improved to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pacific-10 Conference.
The Cougars slipped to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-10. WSU travels to Oregon (3-1, 1-0) next Saturday. The time and possible television arrangements may not be finalized until Monday.
WSU fell behind 20-0 early, bringing to mind last year’s 69-0 USC victory in Pullman – the most lopsided defeat in Cougars history. WSU has been outscored 56-0 in first quarters this year.
Tuel replaced starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael with 8:35 left in the second quarter. Lobbestael was sacked four times (half of USC’s final total) and hit and/or pressured several other times, and USC built a 259-3 advantage in total yards before Tuel engineered a drive that lasted the remainder of the half.
The Cougars racked up 63 yards on their only impressive drive of the half but still trailed 20-0 at halftime after kicker Nico Grasu missed wide right from 34 yards as time expired.
Still, the drive pumped life into a moribund Cougars offense. Tuel was sacked two straight plays to set up Grasu’s field-goal attempt, but Tuel had scrambled earlier for gains of 10 and 12 yards, and he zipped a spot-on pass to tight end Tony Thompson under tight coverage to produce a first down with his first pass three plays into his college career.
Tuel, a native of Fresno, Calif., wound up completing 14 of 22 passes for 130 yards. He was intercepted at the USC 1-yard line when he tried to force a pass to Gino Simone in the fourth quarter.
“I was honestly more excited than nervous,” Tuel said. “I just told myself, ‘It’s a game I’ve played my whole life. I love to play. I’m out here to have fun.’ ”
Coach Paul Wulff said he has not decided who will start at quarterback at Oregon.
Tuel played the entire second half. The Trojans threatened to go up 27-0 (a botched snap on their first extra-point attempt accounted for a missing point) when they moved the ball to the WSU 2-yard line on the opening drive of the second half, but tight end Rhett Ellison dropped Matt Barkley’s pass in the end zone on fourth down.
That was one of two stops by WSU’s much-maligned defense deep in Cougars territory.
“To hold those guys to 27 points is obviously something special,” Tuel said. “Our defense fought the whole game.”
“The effort of the kids (on defense) was great,” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. “The goal-line stands were great.”
USC applied relentless pressure on both Cougar quarterbacks, but Tuel’s speed, elusiveness and awareness prevented several sacks. Dwight Tardy scored on a short run in the final minute to prevent a shutout.
USC topped the Cougars 403-229 in total yards. Barkley went 13-for-22 for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
Lobbestael, less mobile than Tuel, completed just 2 of 9 passes for 14 yards before Tuel entered the game.
Barkley, a true freshman who went through spring practice (unlike Tuel) after graduating early from high school, threw the ball easily and well after missing the Washington game with a bruised passing shoulder. All-American safety Taylor Mays (knee) also returned to action after sitting out the game against the Huskies.
The Trojans, who have been inconsistent on offense but dominant on defense, did themselves no favors by drawing seven penalties for 75 yards in the first quarter.
The Cougars may have lost their third starting guard in as many games when former starting tackle Steven Ayers had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury.