Key matchups in USC-Washington battle

The USC Trojans and the Washington Huskies both get a chance to return to the field on Thursday after having a bye last week. Here’s a look at some of the key matchups that will take place.

When Washington has the ball

The Huskies are young at several key positions on offense. Jake Browning is the first true freshman to start at quarterback for UW since current USC tight end coach Marques Tuiasosopo did it in 1997, and Browning is known as a very accurate passer who is completing 65 percent of his throws through the first four games. The USC secondary has been strong against the pass, however, and has only allowed three touchdowns through the air this year. The Trojans will also get an added benefit this week with the return of senior cornerback Kevon Seymour, who has missed the last two games due to a knee injury. That absence allowed the Trojans to get some reps for a true freshman of their own in Iman Marshall, and the added experience he received should prove to be a big help now that Seymour is back to help form a solid cover group along with Adoree’ Jackson on the other side. Keep an eye on Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens, a one-time USC commit who is quick and runs precise routes, and has moved into the No. 5 spot on the all-time Husky reception list.

If there has been a spot the USC defense has been vulnerable it has been the run game, where opponents are averaging 164 yards per game on the ground. USC nose tackle Antwaun Woods has been practicing in recent days after sitting out the Arizona State game with a shoulder injury, but Claude Pelon (who started at nose in Woods’ absence against the Sun Devils) is uncertain after tweaking an ankle in practice on Monday. But this is another spot where Washington has youth, as they start three freshmen and a sophomore on the offensive line, along with a true freshman tailback.

When USC has the ball

At first glance the Washington defense has put up some strong numbers as they lead the Pac-12 in total defense and rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring and rushing defense. A quick check on the other side of the field, however, shows a USC offense that has been very consistent and leads the conference in scoring, passing efficiency, passing touchdowns and completion percentage. Much of that success for the Trojans is due to the play of senior quarterback Cody Kessler, who is operating the USC offense with a masterful touch so far. It helps that he has a weapon like JuJu Smith-Schuster at receiver, and don’t be surprised if Steven Mitchell, Jr. and Adoree’ Jackson start to get involved in the offense more in the coming weeks.

One stat to watch for the Trojans has been the total number of plays, as USC has been averaging 66 plays per game so far this year. USC coach Steve Sarkisian has often stated that he wants to see the offense running 80 plays or more per game, but he did admit this week that one of the reasons the total number of plays is a little down is because the Trojans are hitting on so many explosive plays. It’s a bit of a balancing act, as Sarkisian would like to control more extended drives with a better third down conversion rate (43 percent) and a more consistent run game, but it’s hard to argue with an 80-yard short pass and run for a touchdown like the Trojans got from Jackson against ASU.


There is a lot of familiarity in this matchup between Sarkisian and Washington coach Chris Petersen. Of course, Sarkisian spent five years as the coach of the Huskies before coming to USC, with Peterson replacing him in Seattle. And Petersen was also considered one of the candidates for the USC job before it went to Sarkisian. Will any of that matter once the teams hit the field? Of course not, but it will likely add to a lot of the postgame fodder depending on which team comes out on top in this one.