The Huskies will take a shot tomorrow at something they haven’t done since 1935 — win games in consecutive years at USC.
That year, they beat the Trojans a whopping 6-2 a year after having won 14-7. Of course, UW rarely plays at USC (or anywhere else) in consecutive years — the only other times it’s occurred with USC are 1930-31 and 1988-89 (UW, in fact, played at both USC and UCLA in 1989, playing five conference road games and just three at home).
But UW plays here again tomorrow due to a quirk in the schedule created by expansion. As we wrote earlier this week, this could be UW’s last trip here until 2015. So the Huskies will obviously want to leave a good, lasting impression.
UW, though, is also trying to simply beat USC three times in a row, something it has done just three other times in its history (1990-92, 1980-83 and 1934-38 — the latter when it won a school-record five in a row against the Trojans).
Not that any of that really matters tomorrow, but it is telling of the historical difficulty of the task, even in the eras (however brief) when USC was down.
The Trojans aren’t as down right now as some thought, with a young team that has allowed more than 17 points just three times this year, and an offense that has scored 30 or more in each of its last five.
You all know what Steve Sarkisian thinks of Matt Barkley, and there are another handful of guys on the team that could be first-round draft picks down the road, including left tackle Matt Kalil, who some rate as high as No. 2 overall next spring.
But as I noted in my post yesterday comparing the conference-only stats of the two teams, they are a lot closer than might be expected in a lot of areas. The one big difference was sacks — USC has allowed just four in Pac-12 play while UW has given up 10 and has gotten just 15 overall.
Sarkisian said a couple of times this week that the play of UW’s lines would be critical. It always is, but he especially challenged the offensive line all week, and said on KJR-AM today they will be quicker to replace players who aren’t performing than they have been all year — UW has basically made just one change all year other than in garbage time, when Micah Hatchie got a series at right tackle for Erik Kohler (that might be the first place to look for a change tomorrow if one is to come).
So as it has in the three other games UW has lost this season, it will all start up front tomorrow, maybe even moreso if the rains really come.
The matchup of USC’s receivers against UW’s secondary is obviously troublesome. But it becomes even more of a worry if Barkley is standing back there patting the ball waiting for guys to come open. And we saw how staganant the UW offense can be last week when there’s constant pressure up front.
On the other hand, USC has given up a lot of passing yards of its own at times this year — 425 to Arizona, 294 to Cal, 330 to Stanford — and UW should have its chances in that matchup if Keith Price gets any time. USC has been harder to run on of late, but figure Chris Polk to also be highly-motivated in what will be his last game in the Coliseum, and after having not played his best game last week.
And USC’s running game, while better of late, has been held down at times, as well. The hope for UW is to have one of the defensive games like it turned in at Utah and force the Trojans to at least have to throw out of a little more of a defensive position.
And it goes without saying that UW needs to at least push in the special teams battle. It got the better of USC in that regard here last year, especially in the field goal game, with Erik Folk making the game winner (pictured above) a few minutes after the Trojans missed a 40-yarder that would have required the Huskies to have to score a touchdown to win (though USC has upgraded there this year, as well, making 13-15).
Sarkisian has said he thought the Huskies played a little tentative last week, especially on offense, and that maybe the buildup of the last game at Husky Stadium and all that caught up to the team.
UW should be in a comfort zone Saturday, however, returning to what for these specific players is the scene of one of their greatest triumphs.
I think we’ll see a better effort out of UW than a week ago and wouldn’t be surprised to see a trick play or something early to try to get the momentum Washington’s way. But to get the win is also going to take some just great performances from a player or two. The game here a year ago was one of the two or three best of Locker’s career — he was 24-40 for 310 yards and no interceptions and rushed for 110 yards (though he did lose one fumble that cost the Huskies a potential touchdown). Two years ago, it was linebacker Donald Butler turning in the game of his UW career, one that won him the conference defensive player of the week award.
The last two years proved it’s possible. But the odds and some of the matchups — as well as the home field — point to the Trojans. Call it USC 38, WASHINGTON 31.