USC Football Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A With Washington Beat Writer
Jacob Freedman: Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin coached together at USC for five years, and two of those years they co-led the Trojan offense. Through this, a coaching rivalry has emerged between the two Pete Carroll disciples. Washington is 2-1 against USC during Sarkisian’s time in Husky Purple. We all remember 2010, where a Jake Locker-led drive allowed the Huskies to boot a last-second field goal to stun the Trojans at the Coliseum. What can the Huskies learn from their two previous defeats of the Trojans? To what extent does Washington circle USC on their calendar?
Todd Dybas: The 2009 win was crucial for Sarkisian. It gave hope to what was a hopeless program after going 0-12 in 2008. Not just among fans, but also among recruits. Sarkisian had a quick chunk of substance to help sell his message of resurrection. Those wins busted USC’s mystique for Washington, the way getting blown out by Oregon over and over has not.
The vitriol toward USC from Washington fans is third to that directed toward Washington State and Oregon. Everyone recognizes it’s a big game, typically because the Trojans are ranked so high. As far as desperation to beat the Trojans when the schedule comes out? Not so much.
Freedman: Will there be a mental hurdle for the Huskies to jump over after last week’s 52-21 drubbing at Autzen? What should Sarkisian tell his players in order to get the ugly memories of last week out of their minds?
Dybas: He tells them that the best receiving duo in the country is coming to town Saturday. The game at Autzen was a mess from the start, mostly because of Washington turning the ball over. Two turnovers in the first quarter plus a busted coverage handed a team that needs no help scoring ample assistance. I think Washington is much more comfortable playing against a pro-style team than Oregon’s snap-it-now approach. The Huskies likely think they can dictate tempo against SC, the way they did against Stanford.
Dybas: He needs to trust his line more. His line needs to be better in pass protection. He needs to trust his line more. His line needs to be better in pass protection. I’m redundant to show the circular relationship. Not to mention, Washington’s receivers have about three drops per game. An example came against Oregon: Price threw a dead-on pass to DiAndre Campbell that went through Campbell’s hands, hit him in the helmet, then was intercepted at the Oregon 2-yard line. Instead of an easy touchdown, it became a pick. There’s no asterisk next to it that indicates Campbell blew it. Just a nasty stat for Price.
Freedman: As the main ball carrier, Bishop Sankey has rushed for over 100 yards the last three games. What sort of running style does the sophomore have, and how will the Trojan front seven be able to contain him?
Dybas: Sankey has improved each week. The first of his 100-yard games was against FCS team Portland State, so throw that out. But, big credit to him for 144 yards against Stanford prior to 104 against Oregon. Though he as a 61-yard touchdown run, his best run came against Oregon when he cut back, spun and broke tackles for a score. His running style has increased in ferocity each week, plus he’s been executing different runs as the packages get more difficult. He still has a ways to go, however.
Freedman: The Huskies’ five turnovers limited their offense drastically. What can the Huskies do to cut down on costly mistakes? Should we expect any drastic alterations in the offense in order to prevent turnovers?
Dybas: No. Price had a bad read to lead to an interception, Campbell dropped a pass, and the punt muff was very much on Sarkisian. Washington had its punt block on that play, which makes the returner automatically shift to a fair-catch approach. When the ball was in the air, Sarkisian told him to return it. It was the wrong decision and led to the fumble. The other turnovers were a fumble by Price on a scramble when he was caught from behind, his fault for being too loose with the ball, and little used freshman Pio Vatuvei fumbling in the line on a fake punt. They won’t change anything based on those.
Dybas: Their primary receivers are Kasen Williams (tied for seventh in the conference in receptions per game) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (second in the country in receptions among tight ends). The third receiver has been by committee. Washington sorely misses wide receiver James Johnson who has been injured and is yet to play. Senior Cody Bruns may be a steadying force this weekend. He played well against Oregon.
Freedman: Sarkisian said that Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant “likes the opportunity and the challenge” of facing either Lee of Woods this week. What does Trufant need to do in order to stop either of the elite wide receivers he will face, and to what extent do you think Trufant will be able to contain Lee or Woods?
Dybas: Trufant has been excellent in his senior season. His interception against 6-foot-8 Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo all but sealed Washington’s win against the Cardinal. He’ll be matched up one-on-one at times with one of those guys. Washington will try to give him help at times, too. Even for Trufant, who some scouts say is the second-best corner in the country, Woods and Lee are a difficult matchup.
Freedman: For three of Washington’s last four games against FBS opponents, the Husky defense has allowed near or over 200 yards rushing. What will the Husky defense need to do in order to stop Silas Redd from having a big day on Saturday?
Dybas: They need to play better at defensive tackle. Sophomore Danny Shelton and junior transfer Josh Banks have been quiet in the middle. Washington also plays a 3-4 base and a lot of nickel. The Huskies are not designed to specifically stop the run. Washington is built more as a coverage and swarming unit. Tackling has been a problem at times for middle linebacker John Timu.
Freedman: Blown play calls and lapse in coverage doomed the Huskies last week. What approach do you think Sarkisian will do this week in order to prevent the Trojans from springing big plays this Saturday?
Dybas: I don’t think they are going to change much. Washington’s pass defense is second in the conference. The Huskies had trouble with the speed of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota last week, obviously not a concern with Matt Barkley. Like any team that plays SC, producing a pass rush with the fewest people possible will be crucial. That way, Washington can help its cornerbacks over the top.
Freedman: What’s your prediction for Saturday’s game, including final score?
Dybas: The weather could be a large factor. It’s supposed to rain all day, which could lead a to a crucial slip -- a receiver or defensive back -- and a big play in what I think will be a tight game. Call it 28-24 USC.
Special thanks again to Todd for his contributions.