Los Angeles, CA – The 18th-ranked USC Trojans and Washington competitive Pac-12 Conference showdown in Los Angeles.
Washington opened the season with wins in five of its first six games, but the team has suffered setbacks in two of the last three outings. Last weekend, the Huskies dropped a 34-17 decision to Oregon in front of the home crowd, and the only other defeat came against conference and national power Stanford. Still, Steve Sarkisian's squad is already bowl eligible and would certainly strengthen its postseason prospects with a win this weekend.
"This team has come to the point where they truly expect to win," said Sarkisian after last weekend's loss. "For the game to go the way it did, they are disappointed."
This game marks Homecoming for USC, which owns a 7-2 mark thanks to wins in four of the last five outings. Lane Kiffin's group is locked in a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 South Division standings at 4-2, and they are coming off a 42-17 romp over Colorado on the road last time out. Because of NCAA sanctions, the Trojans aren't eligible for the postseason, though the players are certainly deserving of a strong bowl bid based on their play to date.
USC owns a 49-28-4 series lead over Washington, though the 2005 win for the Trojans was recently vacated due to NCAA penalty. Last season, the Huskies earned a thrilling 32-31 triumph over the Trojans on a last-second field goal.
Through nine outings, Washington is posting 33.6 ppg and 412.8 total ypg, and the man at the helm of the offense is quarterback Keith Price. In his first season as the start, Price has been tremendous, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,133 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. His top target, Jermaine Kearse, has hauled in 34 receptions to date, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to shake off an ankle injury and be effective this weekend. As for the ground attack, Chris Polk has been tremendous for Washington, rushing for 1,096 yards and nine scores already.
While the Husky offense can certainly move the ball and score points, the defense simply hasn't been good enough. Opponents are posting 33.4 ppg and 424.9 total ypg against Washington, which has given up twice as many yards through the air than on the ground. Opposing quarterbacks are passing for 283.1 ypg with 15 TDs and eight INTs to date.
Against Oregon last week, Washington only managed 278 total yards and made a wealth of mistakes. Price, who tossed a pair of interceptions, was sacked six times in the affair.
"Six sacks is a crazy number to me. That's embarrassing," said Sarkisian.
Defensively, Washington surrendered four touchdowns, through two of the TD drives for the Ducks covered fewer than 40 yards. The Huskies gave up 212 rushing yards on 39 attempts, an average of 5.4 yards per run.
That Washington defense will have its hands full with the USC offense, led by the tremendous combination of Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. Last week against Colorado, Barkley set a USC record with six TD passes and finished with 318 yards, while Woods scored twice and posted 130 yards on his nine grabs.
"We knew our receiving corps was much better than their secondary and it definitely showed tonight," said Barkley. "We were a little off on a couple of throws but I mean, we were throwing the ball all over the place. Thank you, Coach Kiffin, for the calls."
The Trojans may be without tailback Marc Tyler this weekend because of a shoulder injury, and he will obviously be limited if he does play. Still, there is plenty of talent in the backfield to pick of the slack for a team that is posting 33.4 ppg and 446.8 total ypg. Barkley has completed 67.0 percent of his passes for 2,608 yards and 28 TDs with only six INTs. As for Woods, a serious Biletnikoff Award candidate, he leads the nation with 90 catches and on pace to break the Pac-12 single season receptions record. He has scored 11touchdowns and has 1,121 receiving yards.
Opponents are posting 25.7 ppg against USC, which is permitting 377.1 total ypg. Stopping the run has been a strength of the Trojans, who are allowing only 106.4 ypg at a clip of 3.7 yards per carry. There are yards to be gained through the air against USC, which is permitting 270.7 on average. Opponents are making good on 42 percent of their third-down conversion attempts against the Trojans, an average that simply must improve. Dion Bailey continues to pace USC with 67 tackles, but he missed the last game with a concussion and is questionable for Saturday.