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Friday, October 6th 2006

Preview: Washington

Auburn is responsible for kudzu.



And With This Coming Out Is There Any Question Who’s The #2 Team In The Country?

Last week is behind the Trojans. Back home they await the resurgent Washington Huskies. A team playing for right now, hopefully, the Trojans also have new reason to be encouraged for next and coming years. In a stunning revision Scout/ESPN’s college football recruit rankings now have the Trojans with verbal committments FROM THE 2 BEST HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYERS in the country.

Of course Marc Tyler and Chris Galippo won’t be on the field on Saturday. Next year however, there’s a good chance you could see these two freshmen on the field.

Carroll’s penchant for putting first-year players on the field, a philosophy born of necessity after he took over a middling program in 2001, has reached record heights.

A total of 15 freshmen played in victories over Arkansas, Nebraska, Arizona and Washington State.

USC’s 4-0 record might not reflect it, but the youth movement affects game planning, play-calling and just about every facet of the program.

“Are we held back a little bit? Sure. That’s only natural,” Carroll said. “But we’ve found ways to do most of everything.

“They just can’t do it exactly, the best way, for everything. We make do with what we have.”

Washington Offense v. USC Defense

It was an embarassment last weekend. A defense, supposedly to rival 2004 when the Trojans looked untouchable is now is struggling to stay in the top 25 statistically and looked every bit out of play against Washington St.

Meanwhile, Washington has suddenly found offensive resurgence.

Senior quarterback Isaiah Stanback has blossomed in 2006. Always, a big, athletic, fleet and strong-armed athlete, Stanback has minimized the mistakes that hampered him during his first two seasons at the UW helm. He’s completing almost 57 percent of his passes – better for a QB whose accuracy has always been an issue – and has tossed eight touchdowns against just three interceptions. He’s also averaging almost five yards per carry and is the Huskies’ second leading rusher with 306 yards and two scores. When he’s on the mark and not forcing the ball, the Huskies have a dangerous passing attack. When he falls back into his old ways, UW is much easier to defend.

The big, dreadlocked QB looked dandy last weekend against UCLA, despite an interception. Against toucher competition in Oklahoma he was flabergasted. But still managed to give the Huskies a chance by not making too many mistakes (no INTs).

Washington’s recieving corp may be optimally suited to try to repeat Washington St’s game plan through the air last weekend. Especially considering on paper the Huskie’s offensive line should give the Trojans much greater fits than the Cougar’s should’ve.


Twins! Let’s Just Hope Not On Saturday.

If Stanback can be patient, find underneath recievers and move the ball consistently down the field, he may give the Huskies there best chance at this game.

The big play threat isn’t really there for Washington, despite the fact that in 3 of 5 games Stanback has passes of >50 yards. He’s going to need help from the running game (for which Stanback is a big part) which is basically Rankin. This is an absolute must in order to stretch out scoring drives and wear out the Trojan defense. That is something that might not be available with the Huskies managing less than 50 yards on the ground against UCLA last week.

Last year Stanback was stuffed trying to move around, averaging less than half a yard in his 13 rushing attempts, although he did rush for a touchdown. And unless there’s a meltdown in the Trojan front seven, there’s no reason to think Isaiah will suddenly pull a Vince Young on the Trojans.

I think patience is going to be difficult for Stanback although there is no doubt he’s improved this year. Coming into the Collisseum against a team that has dominated him during his career it will be difficult to maintain composure for 12+ play drives.

Rivals is making the argument the Trojan defense performed better than it appears against Washington St,

Until Washington State’s last two drives, the Trojan defense performed fairly well – certainly not up to their early season efforts, but WSU was really the first team to challenge the Trojan defense consistently. Alex Brink played an excellent game and the Cougars’ one-back, counter-based running attack took advantage of USC’s speed on defense, causing some overpursuit. Still, with five minutes to play, the Trojans had allowed fewer than 300 total yards and just 15 points, including holding WSU to three field goals deep in Trojan territory. The problems really arose when it appeared the defense suffered a bit of a “game-over” mental letdown after USC took a 28-15 lead. The Cougars final two drives were disturbing – and somewhat reminiscent of a certain game this past January.

I’m not buying that argument. Still, despite the fact the Trojan secondary (and d-line) finally got shown up against Washington St., I don’t think Ty Wilingham has the tools to challenge the Trojans deep early. And even if he does, Pete Carroll has made a committment to blitz this weekend if the pressure doesn’t come early from the front four.

I’m going to take him at his word.

More than the DBs not finding the Alex Brink balls last week (although they did well sticking with their recievers), I think the defense’s most stunning showing was the ineffectiveness at getting to the QB. Stanback is certainly more mobile than Alex Brink or Zac Taylor and the offensive line is certainly better than Willie Tuitama’s, so the question becomes are we going to see a repeat of last week even with LoJack (where has he been all season?!) on the line and Sedrick Ellis returning for some snaps.

Hopefully not. If the offensive line does a good job for the Huskies, Stanback is patient and takes what the Trojans give him, and they get even moderate running from the backfield the Huskies will have a chance in this game.

If Stanback can be pressured but contained, then this game will get out of hand and the Trojans will win handily.

USC Offense v. Washington Defense

I was watching an FSN preview show today and Lindsay Soto said something that I had concluded after the past two games. John David Booty is blessed with talented recievers who get open which has saved him so far, but he stares down his first option.

JDB knows where he wants to go at the line and doesn’t often check down or look off his primary target. A very dangerous habit which is difficult to break.

Despite churning up “talent” like leading tackler and sacker Scott White, the Huskies’ bright spot is not their defense.


Can We Say, Missed Tackles?

Rivals is quick to point out the faults of Washington’s front four,

We will probably see more blitzing this game than we have seen this season because the defensive line has not provided much rush. Of the 13 sacks the Huskies have collected this season, only four have come from defensive linemen.

Rivals seems to think despite the weakness of the front four and Washington’s rush defense stats so far, that we’ll have trouble running the ball. I think they’re not giving enough credit to our young backs. Granted the dance around too much in the backfield but I expect a pretty average day on the ground and we’ll walk out of the Collisseum with >4 yards per carry.

Having played passing powers Arizona, Oklahoma, and San Jose St., the Huskie’s 97th rated passing defense is shameful. Scott Wolf seems to think this is the week for the Trojans to open it up.

If there’s one thing USC will probably do Saturday, it’s going deep downfield. Washington ranks last in the Pac-10 in pass defense, surrendering 235.6 yards per game.

Rivals agrees,

Washington’s problem is that they don’t defend the pass very well. They don’t have a lot of confidence in their corners, and CJ Wallace is more run stopper than pass defender at strong safety. They play off the ball 99% of the time, and the completion percentages speak for themselves.

Maybe. But having called for that to happen in every, single, one of USC’s previous matches I’m reluctant to predict that here. Certainly, the Trojan offense is going to put the ball in the air a lot, but we’ll see how many shots downfield Kiffin lets Booty take.

Jarrett is a “maybe” for this game. Despite Patrick Turner’s fumble last week, I’m not really worried. Steve Smith could have another big game, Jarrett could get significant time, or Booty could spread the ball out this week including to Turner, tight end Fred Davis, and the running backs. In any direction we’re going to get our yards through the air.

Moody has got most of the carries over the past several weeks. I think Chauncey Washington will once again have some plays where he lines up at fullback (an odd thing to see against Washington St.) However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gable get more playing time than he did last week. Especially if the Trojans got to the air, as he is decidedly the best pass catcher.

I’ve basically given up on seeing Stafon out there and Bradford is now back at Safety.

I can’t imagine Washington forcing any turnovers this week. If USC protects the ball there are going to be plays to make. Washington has looked poor at times in the open field and even if Kiffin keeps the passing game short, USC’s talented athletes will move the ball down the field after the catch. I expect a pretty similiar preformance to last week in the running game. Nothing to write home about but certainly not embarassing.

Other Stuff

College Football News has us winning handily 41 – 17.

Mandel has us by thirteen.

Pete Carroll is always good at giving teams there credit. There is rarely billboard fodder from the Trojans end. There’s certainly fodder from Washington’s end for this game (here and here), which is part of the reason I think the Trojans win going away.

Here’s a pragmatic quote from Husky linebacker Scott White.
“They’re more realistic this year. They’re more like a college football team now, where in the past, come on, with LenDale White and Reggie Bush and all those guys, that was an all-star team,” White said.

It isn’t really smack talk, but as stunning as it sounds I think they’re underrating the task they face against the #2 team in the country. Certainly, you need to build yourself up to the possibility that you can win. Give yourself some confidence, play like this is just another game. But the vibe from Washington feels too much like they’re sitting back patting themselves on the back at 4 – 1, thinking they’re going to just walk into the collisseum and play. If they’re going to take this game it is going to be a battle, and it doesn’t sound like they’re preparing for that.

I think USC stomps them.

USC 45 – Washington 17

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