USC Football Roundtable: Washington Huskies Week
What of the conundrum at cornerback? And will we stop using alliteration?
All of that, and whether you should expect more top-10 upsets, in this week’s USC Football Roundtable:
What was the biggest positive you took from the win over Utah?
Scott Enyeart - There were two. The first was that the team showed good resolve. Utah punched USC in the mouth and jumped out to an early lead, a scenario that the Trojans have rarely been in, and one that I questioned whether or not they could overcome. But in a hostile environment, they responded. The second positive was that the offense found a way to make explosive plays - something it hasn't been able to consistently do this season. Both of these elements will be huge if the Trojans have any chance at running the table the rest of the way.
Mike Piellucci – On a macro level, it was a crucial development to see USC display the mental resolve they so sorely lacked at the end of the Stanford game to rally from a deficit on the road – and do so in resounding fashion, no less. On a micro level, Lane Kiffin said that D.J. Morgan put up the best rushing performance of his career against the Utes and it came at just the right time with both Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal forced out of the ballgame. Given that this is the second time in three games that’s happened, it’s a big plus that Kiffin now has a third back he can depend on should the situation warrant it.
Omar Shamout - There are a few. It was great to see Robert Woods grab a touchdown pass -- his first since the Syracuse game -- and his six receptions were the most since his 10 in that same matchup at the Meadowlands. And overall, it looked like the passing game was clicking much better than it has been in recent weeks. Hopefully, Marqise Lee's 83-yard TD catch foreshadowed more great things to come from that group. But most importantly, the resilience and poise the team showed to come back from the early deficit was quite impressive. That took guts.
Should Lane Kiffin consider moving Marqise Lee to cornerback on a part-time basis? Why or why not?
Enyeart – No, no, no. Like I just mentioned, USC is finally finding a rhythm on offense, and to use Lee on defense could negatively impact his offensive production. I just don't think USC is at a point where that drastic step needs to be taken. See what Josh Shaw can do at CB first and then take it from there.
Piellucci – You know what? The more I think about it, the more I’m on board, at least in a situational capacity. The main allure is that there just isn’t a better alternative across from Nickell Robey; Torin Harris, Anthony Brown, and Brian Baucham have all made backbreaking mistakes in coverage, and Kiffin clearly isn’t willing to endure Kevon Seymour’s growing pains if he’s going back to the drawing board one week after gushing about the freshman’s progress. Josh Shaw? We’ll get into that below.
So Lee is the best option on the board and yes, that would result in him playing fewer snaps on offense. But USC also has the fortune of having Robert Woods – you know, the guy who had the best receiving season in conference history last year – and how quickly we forget that this team was winning games last year with him acting as the entire passing attack for the first half of the season. This time around, Matt Barkley could also call upon the tight ends and Nelson Agholor, to say nothing of Lee still retaining a significant role in the passing game. The offense has other options besides Marqise Lee. I don’t think the same can be said about the defense.
Shamout - If by part-time basis you mean on a play or two in the red zone as Lane Kiffin suggested last week, then maybe. But to anything more than that, I'm inclined to say "Hell no!" While a novel concept, I really don't think this is a smart idea. He's such a threat on offense that an injury would just be a killer blow to a unit starting to find its groove. And if he does manage to stay healthy, I'd worry that the extra effort would take its toll on him physically during games, even if Lee himself doesn't think it will.
For that matter, should he try Josh Shaw there?
Enyeart - Guess I jumped the gun on Shaw. Yes, he should get a look before Lee.
Piellucci – He can get a shot, but there’s a school of thought going around that USC wouldn’t be in its current predicament at corner if they had used Shaw there earlier, and I think that’s awfully naïve. Lest we forget, Shaw was a cornerback coming out of high school and he played there all of a month at Florida before Urban Meyer moved him to safety. That was three years ago; now, he’s bigger and unless you’re dealing with Patrick Peterson, that makes it dramatically more difficult to turn and run in coverage. If Shaw is allowed to play the boundary and use his physicality to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, it could work but if he’s expected to stick with receivers all over the field, he’s going to get exposed. That’s not to diminish his prowess as a player; Shaw is a very good safety who is the heir to T.J. McDonald’s starting spot. As a corner, though, he’s out of his element, Donnie.
What is your biggest concern ahead of the game at Washington?
Enyeart - Washington usually plays USC well, and I think they match up well with the Trojans. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is highly regarded and the Huskies are playing well on that side of the ball. Keith Price hasn't played so well at all this season, and with USC's struggles to defend the pass, it feels like he may be due for a big game. Keep an eye on RB Bishop Sankey and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, as well, for the Huskies.
Piellucci – We’ve spent a lot of time so far discussing the woes at the second cornerback spot, so I’d be remiss not to mention some level of worry about Washington’s Keith Price, the best Pac-12 quarterback after Barkley, having the opportunity to exploit that. But my biggest concern isn’t who USC is playing but where. Only Oregon rivals Washington as a road environment and the Huskies knocked off Stanford in their last home tilt. The Trojans took a big step with the composure they displayed against Utah; now, they need to build on it to get a second straight conference win on the road.
Shamout - There's not really one player or component of Washington's team that you can point to as particularly intimidating. The Huskies' offense is lackluster and the defense is pretty soft, too. But as Stanford found out two weeks ago, and USC has in the past, there's just something a little unsettling about going up against Steve Sarkisian's men in Seattle whether they're at Husky Stadium or Century Link Field. But if the Trojans can avoid silly turnovers in their red zone like the two against Utah, I'm confident they can come away with a win.
Three top-10 teams lost this past week, and at least one is guaranteed a loss when South Carolina plays LSU. Buy or sell - two or more top 10 teams go down this weekend?
Enyeart - I will buy it. Think at least one more falls. Not sure who, but just seems to be the way the season is going, so I’ll take the easy money.
Piellucci – Sell. The other obvious one would be Notre Dame against Stanford but I think the Irish get the win at home. So then there’s the matter of upsets and I just don’t see a matchup that piques my interest – case in point, I’m highly skeptical of Florida and Ohio State’s merit as top-10 teams, much less top-five but I don’t think Vanderbilt or Indiana are capable of beating them. Of course, I doubt even Mike Glennon expected NC State to drop Florida State, so watch each one go down.
Shamout - I'm inclined to say no, but keep an eye on Ames, Iowa this week. If another upset is in the cards, I think it might happen there. Iowa State snapped then No. 15 TCU's 12-game winning streak on the road last Saturday, and the Cyclones' run defense is allowing only 115 yards per game. The Wildcats' rushing attack of John Hubert and Collin Klein might be in for its toughest test yet.