USC-Washington Preview

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer ISeptember 18, 2009

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 5:  Quarterback Jake Locker #10 of the Washington Huskies runs with the ball for yardage against the LSU Tigers during their game on September 5, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The LSU Tigers defeated the Washington Huskies 31-23. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Last week it was all about Terrelle Pryor.  This week it’s all about Jake Locker.  The Huskies are averaging over 400 yards per game and 32.5 points this season, and it’s mostly because Locker has returned to lead the team.

Locker missed most of last season with a broken thumb, and the Huskies wound up going winless.  This season they are 1-1.  Their one loss came at the hands of SEC power, LSU, in a closely fought contest.

This year, Locker has bought into the new system instituted by first year head coach, Steve Sarkisian, and the results speak for themselves. 

Sarkisian was Pete Carroll’s former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at USC.  So, he is more than a little familiar with the USC defensive schemes and their players.

If anyone knows how to best utilize Locker’s skills against the Trojans, it is Sarkisian.  Locker has good size at 6'3", 226 pounds and sub 4.40 speed, which makes him a dual threat.  

But Sarkisian has gotten Locker to think pass first and run second.  As a result Locker has thrown 70 passes and has completed over 60 percent of them.

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Although he is only averaging 35 yards per game rushing, Locker is still a breakaway threat.  When he pulls that ball down and takes off, the Trojan defenders had better be ready.

When Locker is back in the pocket, he will be looking for his No. 1 wide receiver, James Johnson.  He has nine catches for 111 yards and two TDs.  He is also the Huskies’ tallest receiver at only 6'0".  

Their other two wide receivers are D’Andre Goodwin at 5-11 and Jordan Polk at 5-8.  Goodwin averaged five catches per game last season.  So far this year, he has five catches total for 102 yards.

Jordan Polk, the brother of tailback Chris Polk, is another speedster who cannot only get behind defenders but can turn a short hitch upfield and make something happen, much like Joe McKnight did at Columbus last Saturday.

Jordan’s brother, Chris Polk, a former Trojan verbal commit, is the Huskies’ leading rusher with 40 carries for 170 yards.  He had 90 of those yards against LSU.  Polk has good speed and can hit the seams in the defense quickly.

The other tailback is Johri Forerson.  He only has five carries this year and has been used primarily as a receiver with four catches for 93 yards.

Kavario Middleton at 6-5, 253 pounds is a sophomore tight end with seven catches for 58 yards, one of them a TD against LSU.  The other tight end, Chris Isbicki, is also a sophomore and has only one catch, a two-yard TD against Idaho.

The question Sarkisian must answer centers around his offensive line.  Can they open holes for their running game and protect Locker when he is in the pocket?  If they can’t, Locker may be doing a lot more running on Saturday than Sarkisian would like.

When Sarkisian arrived at Washington, the first person he recruited was Nick Holt, the defensive coordinator of the Trojans.  Now Holt is in the same role only in Washington, where he must face his former players on Saturday.

That has to be a huge plus for the Huskies.  Holt pretty much knows what to expect from the Trojans.  I am sure he has watched tapes of the Ohio State game and has considered putting eight in the box to stop the run.

The only problem with that is it plays into the Huskies’ greatest weakness on defense, the secondary.  Both the corners and safeties have done a much less than stellar job in defending the pass.  In a losing effort last week, Idaho burned the Huskies’ secondary for 347 yards.

So, it may not matter which quarterback plays for the Trojans on Saturday.  If Holt puts eight in the box, even Garrett Green could put up great numbers.

Instead, I expect Holt to mix things up with blitzes and stunts.  He may try to confuse the Trojans’ zone blocking offense by giving them particular looks and then quickly switching to something else.

The Huskies are heavily dependent on their three linebackers—Mason Foster, Donald Butler, and E. J. Savannah.  The three of them lead the Huskies in tackles.  I expect Holt to have his front four run stunts and clog up zones to keep the Trojan guards and tackles off the linebackers.

If they are successful and can stop the run, then that frees up the corners and safeties to defend against the pass.  But if the Huskies need to put eight in the box to stop the run, they will be in for a very long afternoon.

Special teams and field position is another way the Huskies can prevail against the Trojans.  Husky punter, Will Mahan has averaged 45 yards per punt while Trojan punters have averaged around 35 yards.

The Huskies use their leading wide receiver, Johri Forgerson, to return punts.  Their other wide receiver, Jordan Polk, returns kicks along with cornerback Quentin Richardson, who “guaranteed” a Husky win over the Trojans.

As far as the Trojans are concerned, the big question is not who will play quarterback.  Either Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley, if his shoulder is 100 percent, should do well against the Huskies’ porous defense.

But the real question mark for the Trojans is Taylor Mays.  

I said a few weeks back that I thought all the injuries incurred during training camp would leave the Trojans thin at some spots.  More injuries during the season could cost them at least two games.

Although some disagreed with me, I thought losing Shareece Wright due to academic ineligibility was huge.  That forced Josh Pinkard to switch from free safety to cornerback to replace Wright, and nickelback Will Harris had to take Pinkard’s spot at safety.

The other nickelback, Drew McAllister, was injured, and Brian Bucham moved into his spot on the depth chart.  Then last Saturday All-American safety Taylor Mays suffered a knee sprain. 

McAllister who just returned from injury will need to replace Mays.  But Brian Bucham who would now play nickel back winds up in a motorcycle accident and will miss Saturday’s game.  That leaves T.J. Bryant and Marshall Jones to compete for the nickel back spot.

With Locker getting more and more accurate with his passing this year and the Trojans getting thin in the secondary, this could make for a closer game than some might expect.

In addition, the hero of the Ohio State game, Joe McKnight, has missed two practices this week with the flu and migraines.

While this could turn out to be a trap game, I expect the Trojans to win even without McKnight, Barkley and Mays.  As long as the offensive line plays at its best,and the front seven on defense plays with the same intensity that they had at Ohio State last week, the Trojans will prevail.  

But it will be close, 28-20.

THIS JUST IN!  ESPN's Joe Schad is reporting that a source close to the USC situation has told him that Aaron Corp has been named the starter for Saturday.  Apparently, the bruised shoulder that Matt Barkley suffered in the Ohio State game is still not completely healed.