USC vs. Washington: Complete Game Preview
With the college football season passing the one-third mark, teams should finally be finding their identities and working on crafting what they hope will be a successful conclusion to this year's campaign.
For the USC Trojans and the Huskies of Washington, what should be is only partially what is.
That is because both of these teams are still searching for who they are in 2012.
Is USC that preseason No.1 team finally arriving on the cusp of greatness so many predicted for them when the season started?
How about Washington? Which team are the Huskies? The one that propelled themselves into the Top 25 with a nice win over Stanford, or that mistake-prone team that got steamrolled by Oregon last week?
For one of these teams, the road gets demonstrably more difficult after this Saturday, as Washington tries to get back on the winning track while the Trojans attempt to find the consistency that will lead to a BCS bowl bid.
This preview will look at both teams and offer a prediction as to which team will emerge with some momentum going forward—and for which team the hurdles to that BCS berth become just this side of unmanageable.
Depth Chart (Washington Injuries)
James Johnson (Wide Receiver)
Johnson, the Huskies' third-leading receiver from 2011, has yet to play this year but is listed as questionable for the USC game.
Ben Riva (Offensive Lineman)
Riva was listed as questionable for the Oregon game but did not play.
Injury information provided by collegeinjuryreport.com.
Depth Chart (USC Injuries)
Curtis McNeal (Tailback)
McNeal left the Utah game early with what is thought to be a concussion and is questionable for Washington.
Randall Telfer (Tight End)
Telfer left the Utah game in the third quarter with an ankle injury and is also questionable for Washington.
J.R. Tavai (Defensive Lineman)
Tavai was listed as questionable for the Utah game but did not make the trip, and his status for Washington is undisclosed.
Christian Thomas (Tight End)
Thomas has been out all year long after offseason hip surgery. He was listed as questionable for the Utah game but did not play.
Injury information provided by collegeinjuryreport.com
What Happened to the Huskies Last Week
After entering the Top 25 last week, Washington turned in a poor effort against the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in a 52-21 blowout loss where dropped passes and five turnovers eliminated any possibility for an upset.
What Happened to the Trojans Last Week
USC overcame a bevy of early mistakes to beat Utah on the road 38-28.
What This Game Means to Both Teams
After an appearance in last week's Top 25, the Huskies will be looking to wipe the stench of a bad loss to Oregon away by beating a USC team that is on the cusp of returning to the top 10.
Washington is a much better team at home than on the road, and any aspirations the Huskies have for postseason glory could use the springboard of a win over the Trojans.
USC, on the other hand, simply cannot afford to lose this game if they hope to secure a high BCS bowl bid.
The Trojans are looking for a complete game for the first time this season, and if they can find it on the road against their former coach Steve Sarkisian, it can propel them to where they are trying to go in 2012.
Keys to a Trojans Win
On offense, the Trojans must find balance, which means that the offensive line must open holes for the running game.
With the availability of running back Curtis McNeal in question, a running attack that will be leaning heavily on Silas Redd (and to a lesser extent, D.J. Morgan) must garner respect from the Huskies defense so that the passing game will flourish.
Defensively, USC's line will need to continue their dominant ways in limiting the run, which won't be easy, because Huskies running back Bishop Sankey is the real deal.
If the Trojans can bottle up the Huskies' running game, it will allow Morgan Breslin and his cohorts to pressure Washington quarterback Keith Price, who can be rattled under the right circumstances.
Keys to a Huskies Win
As should be expected, it will be critical for Washington to get its running game going, which won't be easy to do against a Trojans defensive line that is one of the best in the nation in that department.
If Bishop Sankey can get the Huskies' running game going, it can open things up for quarterback Keith Price, who has some real nice targets in tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams.
Defensively, Washington must get pressure on Matt Barkley and keep the Trojans' running game under check—all of which is easier said than done.
USC Will Win If...
If the Trojans can rush for a minimum of 175 yards, they will control the line of scrimmage and open things up for the pass.
Barkley doesn't need to be perfect, but he needs to throw down field and stop relying so much on yards after the catch from his receivers. Look for Woods and Lee to go for 190-plus yards combined.
On defense, the Trojans will win if they can hold the Huskies' running game to somewhere around the century mark.
Washington Will Win If...
If the Huskies can turn USC into a one-dimensional team relying solely on the pass, they can possibly force Barkley into some turnovers, but this will require a concerted effort from not only their defensive line but also linebackers supporting the run defense.
On offense, if Bishop Sankey can replicate his 105 yards from last week and get some help from his running mates (as a team, Washington rushed for 208 yards against Oregon), it can open things up for Keith Price and his talented receivers.
This will be a tough road test for the Trojans against a Washington team that will be motivated to wash the bad taste of last week's loss to Oregon out of their mouth.
Expect a closely contested first half, with each team trying to assert their running game early.
Interestingly, defense—especially for Washington, which has improved significantly this year in total defense (ranked 38th in the nation this year)—may dictate how this game plays out, although with the Trojans ranked 28th in total defense, 22nd in rushing defense and the same for tackles for loss, they have a fairly significant edge on that side of the ball.
Still, if the Trojans offense is firing on cylinders, it won't matter what the Huskies defense does anyway.
USC 38, Washington 24
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