Preview: USC at Washington
Washington has played three ranked opponents in its first five games, and a fourth arrives in Seattle on Saturday. The bad news is that the Huskies were embarrassed in two of those ballgames, outscored 93-24 by LSU and Oregon. The Good news is that the dogs held fort at CenturyLink to defeat then No. 8 Stanford, and will lure the visiting Trojans into the same kennel.
USC returns to the scene of the crime, after suffering a heartbreaking loss in its last trip to Seattle. Despite the Trojans ability to outgain the Huskies in 2009, three turnovers set the stage for heroics, and kicker Erik Folk would send them to a 16-13 defeat. After losing seven straight, Washington has won two of the last three games in the series, signifying the program’s turnaround under Steve Sarkisian.
Washington Huskies (3-2)
National Rank: none
Last week: Oregon 52, Washington 21
Keith Price (161.9 efficient in 2011) became the most accurate passer in Washington history. He operates this season behind a porous offensive line, and has seen that number drop to 111.76, placing him last among conference quarterbacks. Connecting on 63.7 percent of his passes during his UW career, that number has also dropped to 59.5 percent for 2012. Price has been sacked 12 times through five games, which is a follow-up to the 26 sacks the Huskies allowed a year ago.
Under continuous pressure, Price has logged 5 touchdowns and four interceptions, and those numbers undergo a drastic change against ranked opponents. In three games versus AP ranked programs, Price has thrown for just a single touchdown and four interceptions. LSU, Stanford, and Oregon would also hold the Husky quarterback to less than 200-yards passing in those games.
Bishop Sankey has emerged as a backfield threat. The sophomore has rushed for 100 yards in three consecutive games, appearing as the lone bright spot for the Husky offense. Kasen Williams leads Washington with 31 receptions, and a name familiar to USC, Jaydon Mickens, will also be found in the receiving rotation. Sarkesian utilized the tight end often as the offensive coordinator at USC, and that hasn’t changed as the head coach in Seattle. Austin Sefarien-Jenkins is best suited to create mismatches in the secondary, with the 6-6, 286-pound tight end averaging 10.6 yards per reception.
Washington is a much improved unit under Justin Wilcox, and defending the pass is where it most excels. The Huskies enter the weekend ranked 13th in the nation in pass defense, headlined by cornerback Desmond Trufant. Talented freshman Shaq Thompson provides support at safety, as the unit has limited season opponents to just 173.80 passing yards per game.
But where there is strength, you may also find weakness, and that comes in the front seven. Though Washington ranks 38th overall in total defense, it is 77th defending the run, 99th in tackles for loss, and 91st in team sacks.
USC Trojans (4-1)
National rank: 11 (AP), 9 (Coaches)
Last week: USC 38, Utah 28
The Trojan offense continues to show glimpses of greatness, but the wider angle is still filled with inconsistency. USC was sloppy in its victory over Utah, and will need to avoid a repeat performance to survive Washington in its hostile environment.
Matt Barkley is coming off his best game of the season, throwing for 303 yards, 3 touchdowns, and most important, no interceptions. Much of it can be credited to the improved play of an offensive line that allowed the quarterback time in the pocket and an opportunity for plays to develop. Marqise Lee continues to be the primary target, adding 12 receptions last week to a season total of 52. Lee has recorded 10 or more receptions in 4 of 5 games, with the lone exception being the loss to Stanford (8 catches).
The tight ends were more active in Salt Lake City, after spending the majority of the season as nothing more than additional blockers up front. Randall Telfer was on the end of one Barkley scoring pass, which was only the third by a tight end in 2012. Telfer would go on to block a Utah field goal attempt, before leaving the game with an injury. He was named Pac 12 special teams player of the week, and his status for Saturday is uncertain.
Curtis McNeal, who left last Thursday’s game with an apparent concussion, said he will play on Saturday against Washington. Silas Redd (back), though limited in practice, is also expected to play.
USC enters the weekend with a defensive ranking of 28th nationally and second-best in the Pac 12. Opponents continue to find little success on the ground, and little time for quarterbacks behind center.
The Trojans are allowing just 112.60 rushing yards per game. Three of five season opponents failed to rush for 100 yards as a team, and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor is the only running back to eclipse the century mark. The barrier has been especially strong of late, which is either a testament to the Cal and Utah rushing attacks or the new starting presence Leonard Williams. The true freshman moved ahead of Antwaun Woods on the depth chart, making his first start two weeks ago against the Bears.
USC toyed with the idea of playing Marqise Lee at cornerback, but it’s not going to happen. Instead, we may see Josh Shaw get work opposite Nickell Robey. Torin Harris currently occupies the spot, but has had his struggles on the field. A change would move Shaw form his natural safety position to cover receivers out wide.
Analysis: The Huskies secondary presents an interesting matchup for Trojan receivers, and could prove to be the biggest test of the season for each. Unfortunately for Washington, this is the lone category where it may stack evenly with its opponent across the line. USC is far superior in every other phase of the game, which includes the play on special teams.
The Huskies need a big game from Keith Price, who finished just 12 of 16 for 125 yards in the 40-17 loss in Los Angeles. USC will eliminate the run and force the Huskies to find creative ways to advance the ball behind a makeshift offensive line. A defense that struggles to apply pressure on the quarterback must also bring blitz packages against Barkley. Blitzing comes with a high risk of giving up big plays, but allowing the quarterback the time to repeatedly check down will spell certain disaster for the home team.
X-Factor– Third Down– Steve Sarkisian is 2-1 against his former team, and both his success and failure came on third down. The Trojans were just 3 of 17 (17.65 percent) on third down conversions in the two losses, before increasing that number to 46.7 percent in the victory a year ago. Last year’s 40-17 final also saw Washington convert only twice on third down, after having a 48 percent success rate in the two previous games.
All-Time Series: USC leads 50-28-4
Streak: USC has won 1
Last Meeting: USC 40, Washington 17 (Los Angeles)
- Due to travel restrictions during WWII, it was USC and Washington that met in the 1944 Rose Bowl
- The 29-0 Trojan victory over the Huskies earned USC its first Pacific Coast Conference Championship
- USC and Washington were the only Pac 10 schools to earn National Championships
- Washington is playing an AP ranked USC team for the 11th consecutive year
- Steve Sarkisian is 6-14 versus ranked opponents—-3-5 in Seattle
- The UW roster consists of 34 players from Southern California. USC’s Zach Banner and Alex Wood hail from Washington.
- UW freshman wide receiver Jaydon Mickens decommitted from USC last December