Here's how this works, as played out a week ago against Oregon. Ducks coach Mark Helfrich talked last Monday about Clancy Pendergast's ability to "come up with a new wrinkle every week."
Clay Helton elaborated on his defensive coordinator's secret adjustments by saying they're something USC hasn't done before, forcing opponents to fix their offensive answer on the fly with in-game adjustments.
What followed after USC's 45-20 romp and limiting of Oregon's high-powered offense to 288 yards, 231 less than the Ducks were averaging, had Helfrich and his players saying, yeah, pretty much USC did things we hadn't seen and we didn't handle them well. Different blitzes. Different responsibilities for the front-line and edge defenders. A whole lot of unease for the Oregon offense that started with three straight three-and-outs.
That's been the theme the last five weeks for certain when USC has shut down a succession of uptempo Pac-12 offenses. But now what?
Washington's unbeaten and fourth-ranked Huskies (9-0, 6-0 in the Pac-12) aren't like Arizona State, Colorado, Arizona, Cal and Oregon who relied on either slinging it or slogging it. The Huskies do both. And do both really well. And take their time piling up those 48 points a game.
So how do you decide on their strength before figuring out how to take it away? "It's hard," Clay said, because of the Huskies' extreme balance. Not that he would tell us anyway what Clancy's game plan is going to be. "But I like what he's done," Clay said of this week's shutdown strategy.
Sophomore linebacker Cam Smith USC's leading tackler, wasn't so close-mouthed about how they'll go after the Huskies, a team he said USC couldn't allow itself to get too excited about, just that "they're the next team up," he said. And USC will have one simple goal to start.
"Shutting down the run and making them one-dimensional," Smith said. The problem is, as Clay has made clear, they have a second dimension -- whether it's the pass replacing the run or vice versa -- that's just as good. "They are what they are," Clay said, harking back to the young UW team that upset USC 17-12 at the Coliseum a year ago in Steve Sarkisian's final game.
They do five or six things on offense and do them very well is the essence of it. "They're Simple Simon," Clay said of Chris Petersen's team.
And if Stevie Tu'ikolovatu's MCL sprain doesn't let him play, USC's ability to shut down the run could depend on junior college transfer Josh Fatu's ability to rotate in for Stevie as he's been doing against the uptempo teams. Down 10 pounds to 303, "I feel like I'm faster," Josh says as he gets ready for both defensive end and nose tackle. Also at nose could be 330-pound sophomore Jacob Daniel. Both got good reviews from Clay Wednesday.
"I think Josh is ready for this," Clay said. "You see what he's been doing. And this is an opportunity for Jacob Daniel. He's been playing really good football."
"It's a chance to step in for a brother," Josh said of Stevie's injury. "It's a very big deal. I'm just trying to be a team player."
Clay has two worries about the Huskies -- one from their defense, the other from their offense. Both of them USC concentrated on Wednesday because Clay says they make him "a little nervous." The first is the pass rush that has produced 27 sacks, second-most in the Pac-12, with a pair of well-over 300-pounders in the middle getting penetration and two edge rushers with speed. The other is a ball-control offense that you have to get off the field on third down or it will allow opponents very few possessions. Then there's this issue. Teams must play a very clean, penalty-free game. Commit penalties and you keep them on the field with the football. USC can't allow that.
Clay answered a College Football Rankings question now that the Committee elevated USC to No. 20 this week even though he said worrying about ratings "is not our job -- we don't vote," which is technically true of the CFP rankings although Clay does have a vote in the Coaches Poll that he chooses to keep to himself, he said, as almost all coaches do until the final poll at season's end. "We've won five games in a row and now we're No. 20," Clay said. "You earn respect by winning ball games." . . . To all the other sounds USC has in its sound machine arsenal getting the Trojans ready for Husky Stadium -- dog growls, sirens, airplanes and a screaming crowd, USC added the Husky fight song, whatever it is, to the mix. Hearing it makes you realize there are not many recognizable fight songs in the Pac-12 outside of "Fight On." . . . For the injury report, both Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Damien Mama were held out of Wednesday's practice, much the same as Tuesday, but with progress for both. Damien had a cyst behind his knee drained and is expected back full-go Thursday. Stevie had a PRP injection and was moving much more freely on his sprained MCL. His chance to play Saturday seems improved although it will come down to whether he can play with the injury or not. Stevie says he can. Clay says he has a high tolerance for pain and just might . . . Iman Marshall was back in action and says his hamstring should be OK to go Saturday . . . both tailbacks Justin Davis and Ced Ware practiced almost back to normal with their ankle and knee issues and "that's good news," Clay said . . . Only DB Jonathan Lockett looks out for certain for a second week in a row with a hip injury that's just not coming around . . . For more play-by-play from Wednesday's practice, go to WEDNESDAY WASHINGTON WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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