After a blowout win in Tempe followed by a bye week, the Trojans will return to the Coliseum on Thursday to host the Washington Huskies. The teams have not met since 2012 when USC beat Washington 24-14.
The Trojans are 3-1 heading into the matchup while the Huskies are 2-2. Each team has a loss in the Pac-12, as the Trojans fell to the Cardinal in Week 3 and the Huskies lost to Cal the following week.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian will be facing his former team for the first time. Five members of Sarkisian’s coaching staff also coached at Washington. Sarkisian will face fellow second-year head coach Chris Petersen, who previously led a Boise State team that became a powerhouse during his tenure.
Sarkisian is adamant that Thursday night’s game is no different from any other, and he is focused on winning a game against a Pac-12 opponent.
“I’m a firm believer that it’s about us, about focusing on us,” Sarkisian said. “You have to practice what you preach. Everybody understands that I was the head coach at University of Washington for five years, but that doesn’t make me want to win more Thursday night. Shoot, I want to win every game.”
Redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler will be matched up against a true freshman in Jake Browning, who will be making his Pac-12 road debut on Thursday. Browning has passed for five touchdowns for nearly 1,000 yards and four interceptions. Kessler, on the other hand, has three times as many touchdown passes for 1,297 yards and a lone interception. Kessler had five touchdowns against Arizona State alone.
That’s not to say that Browning isn’t capable of leading his team to a win, though. He is the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Washington since Marques Tuiasosopo, current USC tight end coach, in 1997. He has completed 65 percent of his passes through his first four games as quarterback.
He will, however, face a solid Trojan defense that has only allowed three touchdown passes all season. Senior cornerback Kevon Seymour will return after missing the previous two games with an injured knee and will add pressure to Browning. He’ll be joined by sophomore cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who adds depth to the secondary.
The defense will need to watch out for Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens, who had originally committed to USC before enrolling at Washington. He recently moved into fifth place on Washington’s all-time receptions list.
Though the Trojans have maintained a stout pass defense, they have allowed 164 yards per game on the ground. Nose tackle and captain Antwaun Woods will return to the lineup on Thursday after sitting out against Arizona State due to a shoulder injury and will bring much-needed experience to the rush defense. Washington, however, has a very young offensive line that lacks the experience to exploit USC’s defensive weaknesses.
Kessler will face a Washington defense that leads the Pac-12 in total defense and ranks in the top 20 nationally in scoring and rushing defense. Kessler and his offense, however, lead the conference in scoring, passing efficiency, passing touchdowns and completion percentage. Kessler’s offensive weapons include sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jackson and Steven Mitchell Jr.
“It’s a special thing when you look up and it’s JuJu, Adoree and Steven on the field at once,” offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. “That’s a lot of speed on the field at one time.”
Helton, however, is well aware of Washington’s defense and the challenge it will pose to his offense.
“They don’t blow assignments,” Helton said. “They make you go the long way. It’ll be a tough challenge for us.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. in the Coliseum. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.