O/NSO - Washington preview edition

In what could be best described as inhumane cardinal and gold scheduling, the top-ranked USC Trojans (6-0, 3-0 Pac-10) and their 28-game winning streak must jettison the incredible exhilaration of last Saturday's triumph in South Bend and regroup for this Saturday's "weekly road trip" to face the Washington Huskies (1-5, 0-3) at Husky Stadium (12:30 p.m. PDT, ABC).

The Obvious – In what could be best described as inhumane cardinal and gold scheduling, the top-ranked USC Trojans (6-0, 3-0 Pac-10) and their 28-game winning streak must jettison the incredible exhilaration of last Saturday's triumph in South Bend and regroup for this Saturday's "weekly road trip" to face the Washington Huskies (1-5, 0-3) at Husky Stadium (12:30 p.m. PDT, ABC).

The Not So Obvious – Suddenly this game takes on added intrigue not because it's another road game at a traditionally tough venue, but the recent news out of Heritage Hall. The Trojan team held a meeting to get their act together but more importantly, Matt Leinart has approached the Trojan coaching staff about returning to more of a 2004 style of offense and emphasizing quick hitting pass plays, three-step drops, and screens.

The Obvious – According to the Riverside Press Enterprise. Leinart approached assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian and said, "Go back to what we do the best -- quick, three-step drops, quick slants and play-action stuff. They're playing 10 yards off our receivers. Don't keep going deep."

The Not So Obvious – If anybody could approach the coaching staff about the obvious review of offensive philosophy, it's the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner. It certainly didn't take the likes of Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter to figure out the Trojans were turning into the Oakland Raiders vertical game and some might even argue some Paul Hackett residue. Oh sure, the playbook is the same and the terminology unchanged, but there is no question the philosophy has departed from the successful Norm Chow era. The recent events of this week will bear watching in the future to see how the Trojans offense approaches the second half of the season, beginning this weekend at Washington.

The Obvious – Trojans assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian apparently agrees with Matt Leinart and says the Cardinal and Gold are going to revisit the 2004 style of offense with more three-step drops and slant patterns that were so success during their previous season.

The Not So Obvious – It was mentioned here before the season started why fix it when it ain't broken? It was understandable that an increased "modernization" of the already prolific offense would be "experimented" by Pete Carroll's new chain of youthful offensive commanders. Remember the earlier comments of taking the offense to "the next level" and playing "faster" than ever before? In the little picture, that was all well and exciting and proved to be shock and awe against Hawaii and Arkansas. In the big picture, however, teams have adjusted and if there is one thing that has effected Leinart as much as the external pressures of being a returning Heisman winner, it has been the increased "vertical" game mentality. How many times have we seen Trojan receivers going deep and double and sometimes triple covered? So now it's back to the future and if things go as expected, watch Leinart return to "form "as well as keeping defensive linemen from gaining that extra step to try and blow up the Trojans' bread and butter.

The Obvious – Well, you knew it was only a matter of time before the Times did a piece on what's wrong with Matt Leinart, especially after again throwing for no touchdowns for the second time this season.

The Not So Obvious – As expected offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and quarterback coach Steve Sarkisian hold the party line in Gary Klein's Friday article. They say there will be little change but just do things better.The O/NSO observes Lefty as simply being under an incredible amount of pressure both on and off the field and a change in offensive philosophy. The fact that this is a veteran offense doesn't necessarily mean more sophistication is better. It's a matter of making Leinart feel comfortable again and that's what will take the Trojans to Pasadena in January.

The Obvious - Oklahoma's Jason White, the 2003 Heisman winner, warned Leinart his life was about to change and this sage advice was coming from a kid playing in Norman, Oklahoma, not Los Angeles.

The Not So Obvious - Leinart's comment that he expects things to only get worse indicates that he feels things are already bad. Most believed that when he got between the white lines he would be free, but the reality is those big, bad defenders want to rip him to pieces and some have come mighty close. The remedy? Better pass protection support from his teammates, more conservative passing routes, and while we're at it, let's cool the repeat Heisman talk for a while. Even No. 11 said, "It's all the talk of two Heismans, just a lot of stuff, and it's hard." Amen to that.

The Obvious – The Trojans opened as 31-point favorites over the once proud Washington Huskies.

The Not So Obvious – Considering the proud tradition of the Huskies and all the great players that have worn the purple and gold, it really is hard to fathom that UW has lost 11 consecutive Pac-10 games. It doesn't help the Husky cause knowing the Trojans have won 13 straight road games and UW is 0-7 against No. 1 teams.

The Obvious – The Trojans have played only one home game in October and one home game in September.

The Not So Obvious – Ty Willingham's Huskies have only one home game in October and it's the Trojans. From here on out, the Huskies alternate one home and one away the rest of the season. Following the Huskies, the Trojans will play four of the remaining five games at the Coliseum, including the next two in a row against Washington State and Stanford.

The Obvious – It figures that with the way the Husky season is going, there will be no bowl games for the lads from Seattle.

The Not So Obvious – However, Ty Willingham has been selected to coach the West in the 2006 Hula Bowl at War Memorial Stadium on Maui. Willingham will have San Jose State coach Dick Tomey as his assistant.

The Obvious – Weather in Seattle for Saturday's game calls for a high of 62 and partly cloudy.

The Not So Obvious – The real whether is whether the Trojans will actually tailor their highly successful offense to that of the past three years and are they so emotionally spent that they turn Saturday's game into an Arizona-type conflict? Make not mistake about it, the Huskies see this game as a bowl game unto itself. Having played Notre Dame, the Huskies will feel that they can hang with the Trojans, knowing they played with the Irish until deadly turnovers did them in.

The Obvious – The Trojans are the first team to visit Husky Stadium ranked No. 1 in the AP since Oct. 4, 1969, when Ohio State came to Seattle.

The Not So Obvious - In anticipation of the Trojans arrival in the Emerald City, Seattle Times columnist Bud Withers wrote this week "Saturday, USC comes to Seattle as part of its 2005 coronation tour. It's like Jordan coming with the Bulls or the Rolling Stones due in town. For the fans suffering the recent doldrums of Washington football, it's an event."

The Obvious – The Trojans will bring to Seattle two of the greatest Pac-10 performers in conference history in quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush.

The Not So Obvious – In the locker room after the Notre Dame game, both players were so emotionally spend, there were tears flowing from both all-stars. If the Huskies are hoping to catch the Trojans flat, it certainly won't come from the likes of No. 11 and No. 5. As the season begins to turn into the backstretch of this national championship race, we fully expect they will both raise their game to another level and Saturday will be no exception.

The Obvious – Trojan tailback Reggie Bush was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season, thanks to a brilliant performance at Notre Dame.

The Not So Obvious – By his three touchdown performance, Bush, who has been Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week five times in his career, drew raves from media across the country, Of his offensive output against the Irish, South Bend Tribune columnist Jason Kelly wrote "At least one college football referendum should be unanimous after USC's last-second escape. Bush not only should win the Heisman Trophy, but in the instant replay spirit of reconsidering decisions, he ought to demand a recount of last year's ballots. In one of his three touchdown runs, he showed shifty ability to change directions, hurdler's skill to clear an attempted tackle in stride, and pure speed to sprint away from everybody else in pursuit."

The Obvious – Saturday's game will mark the third appearance of the Trojans on ABC this season.

The Not So Obvious – Speaking of networks, former Trojan and current NBC color analyst Pat Haden has his own description of Reggie Bush. The former Trojan All-America quarterback said, "I think of Reggie Bush as the first amendment with hips. He just kind of expresses himself in his own way."

The Obvious – Husky Stadium has a capacity of 72,000.

The Not So Obvious – For a stadium that may have the worst viewing aside from Stanford Stadium, as of Thursday, there were still 8,000 seats remaining for Saturday's game. Even if there is only 64,000, it will be plenty loud, but Dog fans will have to really release their lung power to match last week's ear-splitting moments in South Bend.

The Obvious – The Trojans held a players meeting to try and retain the closeness the team felt after the big win over the Irish.

The Not So Obvious – If the Trojans are going to accomplish something in team meetings, it will take their superstars to show the way. There has been concern here about the showboating of Reggie Bush following a number of his long runs. Bush says that he apologized to his teammates, but this has been a reoccurring theme. When you're No. 5, a captain, and the most explosive Trojan runner since O.J., you don't need to slow up or summersault into the end zone.

The Obvious – The Trojans are averaging 48.6 points per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Husky defense is allowing 30.7 points per game.

The Obvious – It will be interesting to see if and how the Husky secondary prepares for a Trojan passing game that may remind them of their game at the Coliseum last year, a game in which the Trojans won 38-0.

The Not So Obvious – Last year, the Trojans passed for 256 yards, but Matt Leinart's lone 29-yard scoring strike was to Jason Mitchell. Watch for blitzes from linebacker Evan Benjamin (6-0, 210), a senior from Redmond, who is averaging 8.0 tackles per game.

The Obvious – There has been some recent concern over the play of the right side of the Trojan offensive line, an important factor in protecting Matt Leinart and balancing the running attack.

The Not So Obvious – While the Trojan have addressed some issues on that right side, the Washington Huskies have some major issues with their own offensive line, which has been bit by early injuries. Converted tight end-to-tackle Joe Toledo, once recruited by the Trojans and who will return to play on Saturday, went down early this season with a high ankle sprain, moving right tackle Robin Meadow to Toledo's position. Offensive guard Stanley Daniels lost his starting spot to Clay Walker. A knee injury against Cal left tackle Chad Macklin on the sidelines and defensive lineman-turned-offensive tackle Tui Alailefalula switched sides of the ball.

The Obvious – Somewhat like the McKay era, Trojan fullbacks don't get to carry the pigskin very often.

The Not So Obvious – In fact, between starter David Kirtman and reserve Brandon Hancock, neither has rushed the ball all season. Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for Washington native and Trojans' starting fullback David Kirtman, who is fourth on the team in receptions and averaging a whopping 28.2 yards per catch. Kirtman, who prep at Mercer Island High, was an accomplished tailback in high school and you just know Husky fans will be shaking their heads every time Kirtman inflicts some damage on their beloved Huskies. Of course the loss of local senior standout defensive back Taylor Mays, a senior Seattle O'Dea product to the Trojans, will continue the torment.

The Obvious – The are more than a few "experts" who would argue that Desmond Reed's season ending injury was caused by the uncut length of the Notre Dame grass.

The Not So Obvious – Husky Stadium is a FieldTurf surface, artificial grass that the Trojans have at their own practice facility.

The Obvious – The Trojans did not get a field goal attempt from placekicker Mario Danelo last weekend but did get work from punter Tom Malone who got off some important punts, despite the 60-yard return for a touchdown by ND's Tom Zbikowski.

The Not So Obvious – The Huskies have a fine placekicker in senior Evan Knudson from Lacey, who is 6-for-9 on field goal attempts this season, and a junior punter, Sean Douglas from Bellevue, who is averaging 43.9 per boot. The Trojans' punter, Tom Malone, is averaging 43.8 a kick.

The Obvious – The Trojans will replace Desmond Reed on the kickoff return team with junior strong safety Darnell Bing.

The Not So Obvious – Well, it has been said many, many times here that while Pete Carroll loves Bing on defense, we think he would have made a better tailback, a Ricky Bell or Eddie George type of back. So let the fun begin.

The Obvious – The USC offense is averaging 613 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Husky defense is allowing 361.3 yards per game.

The Obvious – The Huskies have an outstanding defensive tackle in senior Manase Hopoi (6-4, 290), a second-team All-Pac-10 selection.

The Not So Obvious – Hopoi (22, tackles, and 4 sacks) gave the Trojan offensive line all sorts of problems last year in the Coliseum. No question that Matt Leinart remembers his presence, having been sacked three times in 2004 by the Sacramento native. Did we mention that Manase also had six tackles for losses against Troy?

The Obvious - One of the big plays last weekend against Notre Dame was tight end Dominique Byrd's huge 52-yard reception and run that put the Trojans in prime position to score.

The Not So Obvious – You can bet that the Huskies and junior strong safety C.J. Wallace (6-0, 205), who had 17 tackles against Notre Dame, will keep an eye on the Trojans' skillful senior. Speaking of big receptions, this week's Sports Illustrated had their professional camera eye on wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, and SI has a stunning full-page triple shot of the big catch. The popular sports mag used three pages of their "LeadingOff" segment to tell the Trojans' comeback winning drive.

The Obvious – The USC pass offense is averaging 341.2 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Husky pass defense is allowing 284.3 yards per game.

The Obvious – Last weekend against Notre Dame, Matt Leinart did not throw a touchdown pass, the second time this season.

The Not So Obvious – Don't expect a repeat performance, considering that last weekend Oregon's Kellen Clemens threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns against the Huskies. Clemens also completed 36 passes.

The Obvious – There are some that are worried about Leinart's recent performances, although he has remained a flawless leader and clutch performer.

The Not So Obvious – So far this season, Lefty, completing 63% with 12 TDs, has thrown five interceptions. In 13 games last season, he had a total of six interceptions. Some of this year's picks have come by way of misfortune and broken routes. Although operating behind a superb line for the most part, it is very apparent that opposing teams are turning the 2005 Matt Leinart season into a gridiron version of the Red Badge of Courage.

The Obvious – The Trojan rushing attack is averaging 271.83 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Husky rush defense is allowing 157.3 yards per game.

The Obvious – Trojan linebacker Dallas Sartz will redshirt this season, which means that the entire starting Trojan linebacking unit from last year's national champs not longer exists.

The Not So Obvious – The Huskies return all three starting linebackers from last season. The leader of the crew is physical senior Joe Lobendahn (5-10, 230) from Honolulu. Lobendahn, who is averaging 9.3 tackles per game, is a former Interscholastic League of Honolulu Defensive Player of the Year at St. Louis High. Joe is also a 2004 Pac-10 honorable mention selection.

The Obvious – UW offense is averaging 20.5 points per game.

The Not So Obvious – The USC defense is allowing 21.2 points per game.

The Obvious – The Husky offense is led by mobile junior quarterback Isaiah Stanback (6-3, 205), who is coming off an injury against Oregon.

The Not So Obvious – If there is a challenge to the Trojans defense, it's to keep Stanback (55.5%, 6 TDs, 4 PIs) from hopping around the pocket and improvising on broken plays. In the Husky's 45-21 loss to Oregon last Saturday, Stanback was sacked a season-high four times, which is good news for both the Trojans' front four and the beleaguered secondary. However, here is a scary thought: Stanback threw for a career high 353 yards against Notre Dame while Matt Leinart threw for 301 yards against the Irish. Of course Stanback was 17-for-40 while Leinart was 17-for-32.

The Obvious – The Dawg's rush offense is led by sophomore tailback Louis Rankin (6-0, 195) from Stockton.

The Not So Obvious – Rankin, who is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, is a relative unknown for most Trojan fans. However, he was one of 10 finalists for the Cal-Hi Sports California Mr. Football player of the year award in 2002. A scary thought for Trojan fans is when Rankin lines up for a kickoff return on Saturday. Last year he had a 53-yard return at Oregon and a 46-yard burner against Cal.

The Obvious – The Husky pass offense is averaging 234.0 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans' pass defense is allowing 249.2 yards per game.

The Obvious- The Husky receivers are led by junior Sonny Shackleford (6-2, 180) from Beverly Hills High.

The Not So Obvious – Shackleford, who is averaging 13.0 yards per catch, is a former quarterback who blossomed his senior year at Beverly Hills and was invited to play in the California/Florida All-Star game.

The Obvious – Greg Burns is the Trojans' fourth-year secondary coach.

The Not So Obvious – This week with 1540 host Fred Roggin, Burns gave an assessment of his secondary and gave praise to sophomore Josh Pinkard and junior Ryan Ting. The fourth-year Trojan assistant says the biggest Saturday concern of his secondary is to not give up the big play, which of course was the case at Notre Dame. Burns said the bigger concern was about how the big plays were occurring as opposed to the scoring itself. The coach also added he prefers to stay under the radar and doesn't mind at all the offense getting most of the praise. Considering the misfortune and inconsistent play in the Trojans' secondary, it is a good thing that Burns has a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in counseling psychology to deal with his personel.

The Obvious – The Trojans are averaging 74.8 yards in penalties per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Huskies are averaging 46.7 yards in penalties per game.

The Obvious – One of the all-time Trojan linebackers is three-time All-American Richard Wood, a starter on the legendary 1972 team.

The Not So Obvious – UW sophomore wide receiver Marlin Wood is the son of three-of Richard Wood.

The Obvious – Many "experts" are calling last week's Trojan heartstopping victory over the Irish one of the best wins in Trojan history.

The Not So Obvious –Legendary sports columnist Loel Schrader, who has covered the Trojans for 40 years, told the NY Times "When you consider the setting, the drama and the ending, this was No. 1."

The Obvious – One of the better selling books about the rebirth of Trojan football is Conquest, written by David Wharton and Gary Klein, both from the LA Times.

The Not So Obvious –Loel Schrader and Orange County Register columnist Steve Bisheff are co-authoring a book entitled "Fight On: A Colorful History of U.S.C. Football."

The Obvious – The Trojans' last-second victory over Notre Dame was watched by 30 million viewers, the most viewed regular-season game in nine years.

The Not So Obvious – Many are saying it was a recruiting plum for the Irish to be seen by that many prepsters taking the defending champs to the wire. Well, conversely it was also a massive recruiting exposure for the Trojans, who once again probably sealed some recruiting deals with chippers that were already learning that way and probably got some that were walking the fine line. Lose some to the Irish? Probably not. Those that wanted to attend South Bend had already voted prior to kickoff.

The Obvious – Lonnie White is a former Trojan wide receiver who covers UCLA for the LA Times.

The Not So Obvious – During the Bruins' game last weekend at Washington State, White tried to watch his alma mater battle the Irish on the press box monitors at Martin Stadium. However, as the UCLA/WSU game approached kickoff, the monitors were turned to the Bruins/Cougars game, thus eliminating White from the game in South Bend. Luckily for White, he was sitting next to Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen who was getting a play-by-play from his wife off the television.

The Obvious – With ABC covering Saturday's game, Trojan fans will again be treated to the wisdom and words of Keith Jackson, who despite some slips here and there, remains better than the alternatives.

The Not So Obvious – On Saturday besides the Trojans at Washington on ABC, it's "We have returned" Oregon State at No. 8 "Captain Comeback" UCLA (4 p.m., TBS), and "Please, no more overtimes after blowing leads" Washington State at No. 25 " Did we REALLY lose to Oregon State at home" Cal (7:15 p.m., FSN).

The Obvious – And finally, the USC Trojan road tour mercifully comes to an end after Saturday and Trojan fans are waiting to push their team to Pasadena if need be.

The Not So Obvious – The stats say the Trojans have lost seven of their past 11 games at Husky Stadium. Given the tough struggle against Arizona earlier in the Coliseum, there is nothing given when you have been numero uno for as long as the Trojans have been. But as coach McKay used to say, " If we play as well as we can and they play as well as they can, we will win." And this McKay-ism figures to hold true for the Trojans this Saturday.


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