Preview: Washington at USC


Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, November 12, 2011
TV: FX

Steve Sarkisian has taken small steps to rebuilding the Washington program, and his six victories through nine games is a sign of improvement. The last time a Husky team had a winning record in the second week of November was in 2003, when it managed a 5-4 start. And the six wins they carry into Saturday’s game marks the most in a nine game span since the Rick Neuheisel led team went 7-2 in 2001.

But though the program has turned the corner in Sarkisian’s third year, it has struggled in the biggest games. Washington has played three ranked opponents, which account for the team’s three losses this year. On Saturday, it faces a fourth, and will seek a more favorable outcome against No. 18 USC.

Washington Huskies (6-3)
National Rank: none
Last Week: Lost to Oregon 34-17

OFFENSE

Category Avg rank
Rush 163.89 52
Pass 248.89 43
Pass Efficiency 156.35 13
Scoring 33.56 31
Total offense 412.78 51

Skeptics, like myself, originally felt Washington would take a step back after losing Jake Locker to the first-round of the NFL draft. But what they gained is a better passer in Keith Price, and his numbers support it.

Locker completed just 55 percent of his passes a year ago, throwing for 2,265 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. In comparison, Price has already thrown for more than 2,100 yards, with three regular season games and a bowl remaining. The first-year starter is completing 66 percent of passes, with 25 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions recorded.  This is an offense that moved forward in the passing game in the absence of a former star, while also maintaining a respectable rushing presence.

Chris Polk keeps opposing defenses honest. The junior running back ranks 7th in the nation in rushing (121.78 ypg), which is second only to LaMichael James in conference.

While USC is set for homecoming festivities on Saturday, Washington has a flock of Southern California defectors that will be returning to the nest. Price (Compton) and Polk (Redlands) are just two of 35 Southern California natives coming home this weekend.

DEFENSE

Category Avg rank
Rush 141.78 52
Pass 283.11 113
Pass Efficiency 131.64 71
Scoring 33.44 101
Total defense 424.89 93

While it’s the offense that has shown signs of progression, it’s Nick Holt’s defense that has regressed. The Huskies are allowing more than 33 points per game, but more concerning and pertinent to this weekend’s contest,  are the total versus ranked opponents.

The Huskies have allowed an average of 50 points per game to ranked foes. And though the season statistics reflect a porous secondary, the majority of the damage came on the ground. Ranked opponents have rushed for an average of 322 yards per game, while quarterbacks have combined for an average of just 164 yards through the air. This is indicative of a defensive line that has been overpowered by the nation’s top teams, and it will find another formidable group in the L.A. Coliseum.

USC Trojans (7-2)
National Rank: 18 (AP)
Last Week: defeated Colorado 42-17

OFFENSE

Category Avg rank
Rush 156.78 61
Pass 290.00 20
Pass Efficiency 154.46 18
Scoring 33.44 32
Total offense 446.78 26

Matt Barkley continued to add his name to USC record books, by throwing 6 touchdown passes against Colorado last week. He now goes into Saturday staring at the statistical worst pass defense his team will face all season.

The table is set for Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to produce big numbers, but it all depends on Lane Kiffin’s point of attack. There wasn’t much balance in Boulder last Friday, with an offense appearing pass heavy for the majority of the game.  But based on the game plan of past victors, the ease in running the ball and controlling tempo against Washington should factor into the approach.

Curtis McNeal has been given the backfield start on Saturday, with Marc Tyler also expected to make a return. It’s possible that George Farmer will also be available, now listed as 95 percent, after suffering an ankle sprain two weeks ago.

DEFENSE

Category Avg rank
Rush 106.44 18
Pass 270.67 104
Pass Efficiency 129.92 65
Scoring 25.67 55
Total defense 377.11 56

A Trojan defense that started young continues to get younger. Freshman Lamar Dawson has been inserted at middle linebacker, replacing Chris Galippo as the starter. But the unit may gain experience, if Torin Harris is able to return. All indications point to the cornerback participating on Saturday, which would be his first appearance in 5 games.

Linebacker Dion Bailey has been cleared to play this weekend. The team’s leading tackler did not play in Boulder, after suffering a concussion against Stanford the week before.

Analysis: There will be a key battle between Chris Polk and the USC front-seven, and it’s a fight the Trojans must win. The Huskies runner is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, which is important in creating short yardage and very manageable third downs . Washington is tied at eighth in the country in third down conversions, successfully converting 50 percent of attempts.  Limiting Polk’s production on first and second down carries will prove significant in getting the Husky offense off the field.

Washington has to find a way to disrupt Barkley’s rhythm.  It lacks the talent in the secondary to compete with Lee and Woods, so it’s the guys up front burdened with the task of flushing the quarterback from comfort zones before plays can fully develop.  Failure to harass the Trojan gunslinger will lead to another big day for the offense, while also continuing a pattern of lopsided defeats for the Huskies against ranked opponents.

X-factor, Keith Price: As good as the quarterback has been in his first year as a starter, his worst performances have come against ranked opponents. Washington committed 9 turnovers in the three losses, with interceptions thrown by Price accounting for 6 of them.  If Washington is going to upset USC for a third consecutive year, the offense needs to keep pace with the high powered Trojans, which can only be accomplished by limiting Barkley’s opportunities and commanding the field.

All Time Series: USC leads 49-28-4
Streak: Washington has won 2
Last Meeting: Washington 32, USC 31 (Los Angeles)

Fun Facts

  • Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian is 5-9 versus ranked opponents. Two of the five victories came against USC.
  • Washington has beaten USC by a combined total of 4 points in the last two meetings.
  • Washington is seeking its third straight victory over USC, a feat last accomplished in the years 1990-1992.
  • Washington hasn’t won back-to-back games in the L.A. Coliseum since scoring three consecutive road victories in the years 1934, 1935, and 1937.
  • In the 33-year existence of the Pac 10 conference, USC and Washington were the only schools to claim football national championships.
  • In the 30th game of the modern Rose Bowl (1944), USC was paired with Washington, the only neutral site game in the series.
  • The longest win-streak in the USC-Washington series is 10-games, achieved by the Trojans from 1965-1974.
  • Keith Price’s 25 touchdown passes ranks him second only to Cody Pickett (28) for most by a Huskies quarterback in a single season.
  • Washington linebacker Cort Dennison is the Pac 12 leader in tackles.
  • Chris Polk has rushed for 100-yards in 7 of 9 games this season, and a school-record 18 times in his UW career.
  • Robert Woods leads the nation with 90 receptions.


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~ by Anthony on November 9, 2011.

One Response to “Preview: Washington at USC”

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