5 Keys to the Game for USC When Facing Washington
Having dodged a bullet in the form of an early 14-0 deficit last week on the road at Utah, the Trojans turn their attention to former coach Steve Sarkisian and his Washington Huskies.
With every game now representing the "most important game of the season," USC cannot afford to look beyond what is immediately in front of them.
This Saturday, what is squarely looking the Trojans in the eye is a team that was embarrassed last week at Oregon, a Washington team that would love nothing more than to get on the right track against the men of Troy.
In order for Lane Kiffin and his squad to avoid a season crippling loss to the Huskies, they must remain focused and play well on the road against a team filled with talent, and the backing of a rabid home crowd.
To secure a win, USC will have to do many things right.
Here are five of them.
Trojans Must Contain Bishop Sankey and the Husky Running Game
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Perhaps Trojan fans thought with the graduation of former Washington running back Chris Polk, USC would not have to worry too much about the Husky running game this season.
Well, it turns out that there was a pretty darned good backup waiting in the wings, and his name is Bishop Sankey.
So far this season, the sophomore running back is averaging almost five yards a carry and is one of the more productive ball carriers in the Pac-12.
For the Trojans to bottle up the Husky offense, they must control the line of scrimmage and turn Washington into a one-dimensional passing team.
And for that to happen, they must reduce Sankey's contributions to an afterthought.
Defensive Line Needs to Make Keith Price Uncomfortable
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Okay, so the Trojans stifle Bishop Sankey. Now what?
Well, if they want to dominate the Huskies offense, they must find a way to pressure Washington quarterback Keith Price.
Not only is Price a talented signal caller but he has some very nice receiving weapons at his disposal in the form of wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
If Price is allowed the time, he can sit back and pick apart a suspect Trojan secondary with the help of a very talented cadre of receivers.
Fortunately for Ed Orgeron's boys, they have some talent of their own—defensive ends Morgan Breslin and Wes Horton (who is finally healthy and playing like it) and a number of other linemen, including true freshman Leonard Williams and dominant tackle George Uko.
Another thing going for the Trojans is that Washington has had injury issues on their offensive line, which has created some inconsistency for the Huskies.
Trojans Need to Establish the Run
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After stumbling big time against Stanford, the Trojans offensive line turned in better efforts against Cal and Utah in the last two weeks.
Against Washington there will have to be more of the same, and it needs to start by creating daylight for the Trojan running backs to run through.
If USC can establish the run, it will open up the passing game. But just as important, if the Trojans can impose their will on the ground, it will take the crowd out of the game and set up a potential big second half.
And from the Trojans standpoint, they understand that the Huskies have yet to show they can stop anyone toting the rock.
Ranked 77th in rush defense, Washington is giving up 178 yards a game in this department, which should have Trojan running backs Curtis McNeal, Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan drooling with anticipation.
Matt Barkley Needs to Look Downfield Often
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Beyond Washington's suspect defensive line, there are other reasons for the Trojans' to exploit the run.
Surprisingly, the purple-and-gold have become very good at defending the pass.
Ranked 13th in the nation, the Huskies secondary has become a stingy group, which is a far cry from the previous editions of their defensive backfields.
But they are still vulnerable, and this is where the Trojans need to depart from their season long tendency to look for short passes.
For this game—and hopefully for more down the road—Matt Barkley needs to look downfield to make his hay through the air.
Despite the Huskies improvement in their secondary play, they can be exposed with medium to long passes, as evidenced by their decidedly pedestrian 11.90 average yards per pass completion (ranking them in the lower third of all Division I teams).
If the Trojans' running game can draw the Huskies to the line of scrimmage, it should be easy pickings for Barkley and his cronies to make Washington pay down the field.
USC Must Get off to a Fast Start
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The aforementioned "keys" to winning this game for the Trojans not only must be implemented but incorporated as early as possible for USC to win in this very hostile environment.
Of course, starting fast is not a revelation by any means, and the reasons for doing so should be obvious, as crowd enthusiasm (or lack thereof) will play an important role in determining the outcome of the game.
Emotional "buoying" aside, the one thing USC cannot afford to do is offer a repeat of the fiasco that saw the Trojans down 14-0 after the first two series against Utah.
Whereas the Utes could not sustain the benefits of their early good fortune, this will not be the case with Washington, who have enough talent to catch fire and bring their home crowd along for the ride.
So while the men of Troy do not need to score every time they touch the ball, they do need to score early.
If USC can start quickly, this game could be over by halftime.
And this would please Lane Kiffin to no end, since there is no scenario that would be more pleasing than to have the reserves finish this game.