By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
USC owns a 49-27-4 advantage in the all-time series with Washington, but the Huskies shocked the Trojans in last season's meeting.
Washington has had two weeks to regroup from a 56-21 beating at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers last time out. That game took place in front of the home crowd and dropped the Huskies to 1-2 overall. Steve Sarkisian is in his second season as the leader of the program, and he certainly anticipated a better start to this campaign.
"All our goals are still there in what lies ahead, but we've got to get better now," Sarkisian told his disappointed players after the Nebraska game.
The Lane Kiffin era is off to a promising start at USC, as the team has won its first four games. Three of the victories have come by double figures, including last weekend's 50-16 decision over Washington State on the road in the league opener.
"I thought this was the closest we played to a complete game," Kiffin said after the tilt.
Fans of the Huskies were thrilled when quarterback Jake Locker decided to return for his senior season, as many figured a Pac-10 title run and a Heisman Trophy were in line for the talented signal caller. Unfortunately for Locker, things have not gone according to plan thus far, as he has completed just 51.1 percent of his passes for 626 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions. Locker has also rushed for two scores, but he is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.
Jermaine Kearse leads Washington with 16 catches for 338 yards and five scores, while Chris Polk has run for 264 yards and two touchdowns to pace the ground attack. The Huskies are generating 26.3 ppg and 369.0 total ypg, numbers that fall short of expectations, but they can certainly be proud of the fact that they have only committed three turnovers thus far.
There is a wealth of room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball for Washington, which is yielding 33.0 ppg and 425.7 total ypg. The Huskies are permitting over 200 yards both on the ground and through the air, as opponents are ripping off 5.4 yards per rush and 12.7 yards per pass completion. Washington has managed only a single interception and three total takeaways, and the defense has been just mediocre on third down.
In the ugly loss to Nebraska, Locker had the worst game of his career, as he completed a record-low 20 percent of his passes (4-of-20) for 71 yards and was intercepted twice. He did run for 59 yards and a score but the negatives clearly outweighed the positives. The Huskies only generated 246 yards and were 4-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts.
The Husky defense was pushed around by Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers ran for 383 yards at a clip of 7.1 yards per carry and scored six rushing touchdowns. The Cornhuskers only attempted 11 passes against Washington, but seven were completed for 150 yards. The defense permitted 7-of-12 third-down conversion attempts to be successful and spent nearly 35 minutes on the field.
"I know we are a better football team than what we put on the field today, in all three phases," said Sarkisian. "I know we can tackle better than that. I know we can throw better than that. I know we can protect the quarterback better than that."
USC is averaging 37.0 ppg this season as well as 468.5 total ypg, thanks to tremendous balance between the run and the pass. The Trojans are led by quarterback Matt Barkley, who has completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 941 yards and 12 touchdowns against four interceptions. His favorite receiver has clearly been Ronald Johnson, who has made 20 grabs for 249 yards and five scores. Johnson is a dangerous punt returner, having scored on special teams as well. As for the ground attack, Marc Tyler is tops with 288 yards and three touchdowns.
Against Washington State, USC rolled up 613 total yards and easily overcame three turnovers. Barkley threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions, and Stanley Havili scored as both a runner and a receiver.
Opponents are posting 21.8 ppg and 389.5 total ypg against USC, which has clearly been better against the run than the pass. The Trojans are limiting foes to 107.2 ypg on the ground at a clip of 3.4 yards per carry, and just three rushing touchdowns have been scored against USC in 16 quarters. Foes have passed for 282.2 ypg at a clip of 13.3 yards per completion, however, with eight touchdowns.
The Trojans held Washington State to 67 net rushing yards and 323 total yards last Saturday. They intercepted three passes, posted three sacks and permitted just two touchdowns.
Watching Locker and Barkley do battle will certainly be fun. The Trojans, who are developing a bit of a swagger, are the clear pick.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 38, Washington 24