It’s pretty obvious how important the USC game is for the psyche of not only the Husky team, but also the fan base. I’ve sensed that a lot of people have jumped quickly off the proverbial bandwagon and really need to see something good tomorrow to hop back on.
Something like what they saw a year ago when the Huskies beat USC at home, 16-13.
I watched a replay of the entire game Thursday night, attempting to see what went so right that day that has eluded the Huskies so far this season — and realizing that such comparisons can be faulty because of all the changes in the two teams since then, especially on the Trojan side. Still, I thought it might be an instructive exercise.
Three things stood out:
1, The Huskies really did catch a lot of breaks (while also playing well enough to take advantage of them). For starters, USC was without three key players — safety Taylor Mays, QB Matt Barkley and WR Ronald Johnson. The latter two were particularly key. Once the Huskies realized Aaron Corp couldn’t throw deep (or wouldn’t be allowed to) they stacked the line of scrimmage tot contain a Trojan running attack that early on was dominant — and remember that the loss of Johnson was another reason USC didn’t try to throw much.
That kept the Huskies in the game after USC’s early 10-0 lead, which made Trojan coach Pete Carroll that much more conservative. USC also bumbled away four possessions inside the Husky 32, getting no points out of any of them, losing three turnovers and letting the first half run out before they could get a field goal off (shades of what happened to Carroll with the Seahawks last week). UW, meanwhile, didn’t have any turnovers, and got at least a field goal out of four of its five drives that got past midfield (punting on the other, that ended at the USC 46).
UW will need some of this same kind of karma, smart play and opportunism to win Saturday.
2, Donald Butler played one of the best games in recent memory for a Husky defender.
Butler was everywhere that day, making 12 tackles, picking off a pass, forcing a fumble that was recovered by UW (though if you remember the game, it was the one where Stanley Havili just kind of dropped the ball, though give Butler credit for being in position to make the play on Havili and at least putting pressure on him as he tried to get upfield) and making the tackle that caused the clock to run out on the first half.
That means he essentially single-handedly stopped three of the four USC potential scoring drives that ended without points. UW has not gotten that kind of playmaking on defense yet this year but will need it to win consistently in the Pac-10.
3, Jake Locker played maybe the best game of his career. When people asked all summer what Locker had ever done to engender all the hype, the USC game was really exhibit A (the Cal game was up there, as well, but given the quality of the defense, the USC game I think had more impact on the Mel Kiper’s of the world).
Locker was 21-35 for 237 yards without a turnover, and was at his best when it was needed most. When USC jumped out to a 10-0 lead, Locker led a drive on which he completed 4-4 passes for 60 yards, then ran in for the score from four yards out to get UW back in it — a key early momentum swing.
And he’s never been better than he was in the fourth quarter of that game, when he was 10-14 for 106 yards, including 4-4 for 56 on the winning drive. UW had no running game by that point (five yards on eight carries for the quarter and just 56 yards rushing for the game) winning almost solely on the arms and feet of Locker — a much-forgotten play is his four-yard run on third-and-two from the USC 43 which kept the drive alive for the pass to Jermaine Kearse that set up the winning field goal.
The Huskies will need a similar effort tomorrow
So can the Huskies pull off a sweet repeat?
Obviously, USC doesn’t look as good so far this year as it did last season. On the other hand, the USC team UW plays tomorrow might be better than the one it beat a year ago, if you consider the return of Barkley and Johnson (who has 20 catches for 249 yards and five TDs already this year) and having the home field advantage.
I have no doubt the Huskies will play better tomorrow than they did against Nebraska (if not, it will obviously be time to start asking serious questions about where this season is headed).
The Huskies should have some open receivers and some chances to make some plays in the passing game against USC’s young secondary. And you have to figure Locker will return to form (figure him to run a little more and throw more short and intermediate type passes to get into a little bit of a groove early).
But USC just seems to have the edges in the trenches, which we saw against BYU and Nebraska were hard to overcome. And there doesn’t seem to be any chance that the Trojans come out flat, given the events of a year ago.
It’ll be better than two weeks ago, but not enough to get a win. Call it USC 31-23.
October 1, 2010 at 1:57 PM
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