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November 11, 2011Matchup: Washington Huskies (6-3, 4-2) at No. 18 USC Trojans (7-2, 4-2)
Kickoff: Saturday, 12:45 p.m. Pacific time, Los Angeles Coliseum
TV, radio: The game will be broadcast on FX with Gus Johnson, Charles Davis and Tim Brewster providing the commentary. It will also be broadcasted on KJR 950-AM; Bob Rondeau will provide play-by-play, former NFL quarterback Damon Huard the color commentary and Elise Woodward with sideline insight.
Coaches: Lane Kiffin, USC (second year); Steve Sarkisian, Washington (third year).
Series: Both teams have played each other 81 times, dating back to 1923. USC hold a 49-28-4 advantage, but recently, the series has been tied 9-9-1 in their last 19 outings. Furthermore, Washington has won the last two meetings - by a close shave. In 2009, the Huskies beat the No. 3-ranked Trojans 16-13 on a last-second field goal from Erik Folk. Last season, Washington beat No. 18 USC, 32-31 by another last-second field goal.
About the Trojans: Junior Matt Barkley has led USC to big wins over Notre Dame and Utah. But notably, this young team showed grit in a triple-overtime loss to Andrew Luck and the No. 4 Stanford Cardinal. Barkley is on track for a career-high season: 2,608 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 67 percent completion rate, and a passer rating of 154.5. Those numbers vie for all-conference honors and he's shaping up to be a possible first-round draft pick.
His favorite targets are sophomore Robert Woods and freshman Marqise Lee. This season, Woods has received 90 of Barkley's 229 completions. He leads the Pac-12 with 1,121 receiving yards. His partner on the weak side, Lee, has shown flashes of brilliance with acrobatic catches. Lee has 658 receiving yards.
A usually-notorious running game has been overshadowed by Barkley, injuries and key losses. Senior running back Marc Tyler has been on and off the field due to injury and acclaimed sophomore Dillon Baxter left the team. But junior Curtis McNeal has been a pleasant surprise - even though his fumble led to the loss against Stanford. He leads the team with 587 yards and an impressive 6.7 yards-per-carry. To support him, Tyler is cleared to play Saturday; he's second on the team with 394 yards. Freshman Amir Carlisle had a great game last week against Colorado, racking up 90 yards on 10 carries. Expect to see him get a good number of carries.
Keep on the lookout for No. 75, offensive lineman Matt Kalil. His physical prowess is another reason why Barkley is able to put up such efficient stats. Recently, he was named a Lombardi Award finalist, and many draft experts expect him to be the second pick of the draft, after Stanford's Luck.
The USC defense is 56th in the nation, allowing 377 yards per game. The Trojans' pass defense has been so-so at best, with injuries and shuffling around their secondary. Their game against Colorado was one of their stronger efforts, forcing quarterback Tyler Hansen to throw for 250 yards. However, against Arizona and Stanford, this secondary allowed 755 passing yards. A strong run defense complements their average pass defense, only allowing 106.4 yards per game. Freshman linebackers Dion Bailey, who leads the team in tackles, and Hayes Pullard provide a staunch wall to contain the run.
About the Huskies: The two-headed beast in the backfield, sophomore quarterback Keith Price and junior tailback Chris Polk, hope to return from a disappointing game against the No. 6 Oregon Ducks. Price has surpassed the school record of 25 touchdowns and has completed 67 percent of his passes but he has been shaky in his past two games. He has thrown for 420 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions against Arizona and Oregon.
However, with that decline, he's becoming more mobile. Last week, he ran for 87 yards on eight carries. As for Polk, the Pac-12 rushing leader with 1,096 yards, he became the first player in school history to record 100 rushing and receiving yards against Arizona. But the next week, he was mostly ineffective. Polk ran for 76 yards on 24 carries and caught six passes for 31 yards against the Ducks.
After a solid game last week, expect to see more of freshman receiver Kasen Williams as he takes over for injured junior James Johnson. Williams led all receivers with six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. Head coach Steve Sarkisian said there's the possibility of him starting and joining senior tandem Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar. After a hot start, freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has simmered down on the receiving end, but continues to improve his blocking and field awareness.
Likewise, the Husky defense has yet to step up but last week was a good start. They've allowed 425 yards per game on average but they only allowed the scorching Oregon offense 375 yards. Rather than pinpointing the basics, the offense and defense worked together to make sure the Ducks didn't control the time of possession. At times, they've shown that they can be effective but overall, this defensive corps has been lifeless for the majority of the season. The pass rush has been missing every game; this team is 81st in sacks. This secondary also needs to step up, as they are 113th in the nation in passing defense.
What to expect: There will be plenty of offense on both sides: two potential all-conference players go head-to-head against second-rate defenses. Emotions from the home crowd could fuel the Trojans after witnessing a one-point setback at the Coliseum last year.
Furthermore, the Trojans at home are more dangerous. Their only defeat in Los Angeles this season was the triple-overtime loss against the Cardinal.
For USC, if the run game is stabilized,
it'll make Barkley even more effective off play-action passes and on short throws. The Washington offense can keep up with any offense in the nation; that was evident against Stanford when the Huskies created 430 yards of offense. It's more of a question of if they can consistently create long drives and convert and also if this defense shows up for one whole game, not for mere moments. The Huskies do have a realistic shot if they can contain Woods, Lee, and short passes. Nonetheless, if Barkley gets on a roll, the Husky defense is helpless.
UDubNation.com pick: USC, 48-31
Follow UDubNation's Ravi Venkataraman on Twitter: @RVenk_Rivals