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Halliday injured; Southern California rolls over Washington State 44-17

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PULLMAN, Washington — Washington State lost much more than the game on Saturday.

Quarterback Connor Halliday, the nation's leading passer, was knocked out of the game in the first quarter and rushed to surgery. The senior may be done for the season.

Washington State coach Mike Leach does not publicly discuss injuries. He said after the game that Halliday was taken into surgery, but he declined to release any other details.

"Connor's huge," Leach said. "Most of his contributions to the program are ones that the public doesn't have a full appreciation of, but his contributions to this program are gigantic."

Halliday came into the game having thrown for 3,833 yards, with 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the first eight games of the season. He set an NCAA single game record earlier this year by throwing for 734 yards against California. Last year he set an NCAA record with 89 pass attempts against Oregon.

Now the quarterback duties fall to freshman Luke Falk, a former walk-on with little playing experience. Falk threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns in the 44-17 loss to Southern California on Saturday.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to Connor," Falk said, adding that he expected to start the final three games of the season.

"I was ready to go in," Falk said. "I prepare like a starter every week."

Halliday writhed on the turf for several minutes after his legs were caught between a pair of players. He was strapped onto a stretcher and placed in a cart, which drove him off the field. Some of the Southern California players tried to comfort him.

"We said we were going to pray for him," USC linebacker Hayes Pullard told reporters he told Halliday. "We're going to text him after the game to make sure he is OK."

Meanwhile, Southern California coach Steve Sarkisian knows it's hard to grind out drives with plays that produce only a few yards. Sarkisian prefers to get yards in big chunks.

"You have to be able to create yards in chunks in football," Sarkisian said, after Cody Kessler threw for 400 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Trojans over Washington State in rainy, foggy conditions.

Sarkisian noted that Kessler completed only 21 passes in piling up 400 yards. And running back Javorius Allen averaged 6 yards per carry in rushing for 114 yards.

"Yards in chunks are critical for us," Sarkisian said.

JuJu Smith caught three touchdown passes for Southern California (6-3, 5-2 Pac-12), which became eligible for postseason play. Nelson Agholor caught eight passes for 220 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.

For Washington State (2-7, 1-5), Falk threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns, but it was not enough to prevent the Cougars from suffering their second consecutive home loss and fourth in a row.

PHOTO: Southern California quarterback Cody Kessler (6) attempts a pass against Washington State during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)
Southern California quarterback Cody Kessler (6) attempts a pass against Washington State during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

Southern Cal, coming off a last-second 24-21 loss at Utah last weekend, had 527 yards of total offense to 444 for Washington State. Kessler completed 21 of 32 passes.

Sarkisian praised his team for rebounding from a heart-breaking loss.

"We've been preaching finish," Sarkisian said. "That showed up tonight."

Washington State has surrendered 60, 59 and 44 points in its past three home games.

Special teams have been a problem for Washington State all season, and they broke down again early for the Cougars, who went three-and-out on their first possession. Agholor took the ensuing punt and ran untouched through the WSU team for a 65-yard touchdown return and a 7-0 lead with 12:13 left in the first quarter. It was Agholor's fourth punt return for a touchdown, a USC career record.

Halliday was intercepted on the next series by Pullard, who ran the ball down to the WSU 19. Kessler hit Smith on a 22-yard touchdown pass to put USC up 14-0 with 10:33 left in the first quarter.

Halliday was injured on the next series, when two players appeared to fall onto him after he threw a pass. Falk, a walk-on, came in for his first extensive action of the season.

Andre Heidari booted a 37-yard field goal to give USC a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Washington State, with Halliday out, punted on its next four possessions, and then turned the ball over on downs on the fifth. Starting at the WSU 36, Kessler threw 14-yard pass to Agholor and then a 22-yard touchdown pass to Smith, for a 24-0 lead.

Washington State finally got on the scoreboard late in the first half when Falk hit Robert Lewis with a 9-yard touchdown pass, capping an 81-yard drive, to cut USC's lead to 24-7 at halftime.

The Cougars scored the first points of the second half when Quentin Breshears kicked a 27-yard field goal to cut USC's lead to 24-10 with 6:10 left in the third quarter. The kick came after WSU drove to the Trojan 9-yard line.

But the Trojans came right back, as Kessler hit a wide open Agholor at midfield and the receiver completed an 87-yard touchdown play for a 31-10 lead.

Smith added a 7-yard touchdown reception from Kessler late in the third. Kessler threw a touchdown pass to Steven Mitchell in the fourth.

For WSU, Falk threw a late touchdown pass to Isiah Myers.

Kessler has thrown for 25 touchdowns against only two interceptions so far this season.

Halliday, a senior, holds the NCAA single-game record for yards passing (734), set this year against California, plus a slew of school records.

Tailback Javorius Allen of USC, who leads the Pac-12 in rushing, rushed for at least 100 yards for the sixth straight game.

Washington State beat the Trojans 10-7 in Los Angeles last year, but the Trojans lead the series 59-9-4.

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