Podcast: Sports editors James Bianchi and Kenny Legan size up the Huskies.
Last time USC faced Washington, it was the beginning of the end.
The Huskies’ shocking 16-13 upset victory over then-No. 3 USC started the Trojans on a downward spiral that culminated in a fifth-place Pac-10 finish, their worst in eight years.
The No. 18 Trojans (4-0) will be out to avenge that embarrassing loss Saturday when Washington (1-2) visits the Coliseum. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
The revenge story line is the most pervasive. Returning players didn’t hide that they wanted to give the Huskies a little payback.
“We’ve had 365 days to think about this,” redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo said.
Any hopes for redemption must start with stopping Washington quarterback Jake Locker, who orchestrated a last-minute drive to get into field goal range and seal last year’s upset. Locker had been projected by some to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, yet he has not lived up to expectations this season (see a particularly bad 4-of-20, 71-yard, two-interception outing against No. 6 Nebraska).
Still, USC coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans are not comforted.
“I think his passing and his scrambling are what really concern me,” Kiffin said. “The called runs they’re going to run with him are tough to defend, but it’s when a play breaks down and now you’re not in your normal fits and everybody is back in man or zone 20 yards downfield and he takes off and runs.”
Besides the vengeance angle, USC enters Saturday a much different team than the one it was a year ago. For one, sophomore Matt Barkley will be the starting quarterback. Barkley was suffering from a shoulder injury this time last season, so former Trojan Aaron Corp made his only start of the year with underwhelming results.
“It was tearing me up at the hotel when they put Aaron in that little walk-through as the starter,” Barkley said. “I was trying my best to get out there, and it just didn’t happen.”
Barkley won’t have to worry about that this time around, which will be key if USC’s offense is to avoid the same miscues. Barkley leads the nation in touchdown passes with 12, and despite four interceptions, has been a major reason the offense has been explosive at times.
Senior receiver Ronald Johnson is another key player available this time who sat out because of injury. The last time these two teams met, Johnson was still recovering from a broken clavicle.
The new USC coaching staff will likely change the flavor of this game as well.
Washington coach (and former USC offensive coordinator) Steve Sarkisian knew USC inside and out last year. It doesn’t hurt that he also brought along former USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt either.
Last year, Holt’s defense held the Trojans to just 13 points and forced three turnovers in the process. In addition, Washington only allowed three USC points in the latter three quarters of the game.
Sarkisian might still have the edge, however, because USC hasn’t changed all that much under Kiffin.
“I think it’s an advantage to them because they were here,” Kiffin said.
But Kiffin is equally familiar with Sarkisian. The two came up together as assistant coaches under Pete Carroll and even co-coordinated the offense together in 2005.
The two have kept their friendship intact over the years and said they still talk about once a week. Now they are set to coach against each other for the first time.
“It’s a unique experience, this early in our careers, to be facing each other in such a pivotal ball game in the Pac-10 race,” Sarkisian said.