Washington Huskies preview

The game against the University of Washington Huskies this Saturday feels a little bit like Christmas afternoon. All the presents were opened, candy was eaten and new toys were played with during last weekend's game against Notre Dame and all the relatives will be here for dinner and more presents during next weekend's home game, so during the down time, you start watching "Miracle on 34th Street" and invariably end up asleep on the couch.

Let's just say that it's a good thing most Trojan fans aren't responsible for this week's game planning, because realistically, the only shot the Huskies have against the Trojans is if they catch USC asleep on the couch. For most teams, this would be a trap game, coming off such an emotional win over a traditional rival. But the Trojans, who have seemingly played nothing but trap games for almost two seasons, are well versed in dealing with this kind of situation. If playing against the Huskies doesn't motivate them enough, that Seattle crowd should do the trick.

Huskies of Offense

Quarterback – #4 Isaiah Stanback

Isaiah Stanback got his first collegiate start at quarterback against the Trojans in 2004 and it's entirely possible that he is still having cardinal and gold tinted nightmares. USC, led by defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, held Stanback to 27 yards through the air, going 3-16 and averaging just over 1.6 yards per attempt. Stanback also rushed nine times for -5 yards and was sacked once. Since that game, however, Stanback has steadily improved his grasp of the Washington offense and has become a very competent quarterback. He is a far better quarterback in an option system, but Tyrone Willingham has tried to utilize his arm strength as more of a drop-back quarterback. After not putting up more than nine carries in any of the season's first four games, Stanback rushed 13 times for 50 yards including a touchdown against UCLA, and 11 times for 44 yards against Oregon. His passing numbers have also been impressive this season. Against arguably the two toughest defenses he's faced this season, Stanback threw for 301 yards in completing 22 of 39 passes with two touchdowns against Cal, and 353 yards, completing 17 of 34 passes against Notre Dame. With six touchdown passes against four interceptions on the season, Stanback isn't a guy who is going to light a defense up by throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns, but if the Trojans expect Stanback to just try to tuck the ball in and run, they are mistaken. Conversely, if USC's defensive line doesn't play disciplined and stay in their rushing lanes, Stanback has the ability to pick up chunks of yards with his legs. And after watching Brady Quinn pick up more first downs on quarterback sneaks than most teams get in a season, the sight of another quarterback scrambling against this Trojan defense could be frustrating for USC fans.

Running Backs – #9 Louis Rankin, #8 Kenny James

As a freshman last season, Louis Rankin was used very sparingly, never getting more than five carries in any of the five games he played in. But as a sophomore this season, Rankin has taken over the reigns from incumbent Kenny James. With Stanback staying in the pocket more this season, Rankin has been the Huskies' only true threat on the ground. He has alternated good and bad games this season, rushing for one hundred yards in games one, three and five, against Air Force, Idaho and UCLA. But he was held under eighty yards in his team's other three games, picking up just 38 against Cal and only 27 against Notre Dame. His lone touchdown came in the Huskies' lone win, against Idaho. Rankin is a combination back, and is comfortable with the ball both inside the tackles and outside. While he has caught a few balls out of the backfield (six for 54 yards), he isn't a true threat as a receiver. After starting all of last season and part of 2003, Kenny James has been relegated to a back-up role this year. His only real contributions thus far came when he pitched in with the rushing attack against UCLA, picking up 52 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. After doing an admirable job bottling up the Irish tandem of Darius Walker and Travis Thomas, these two Huskies shouldn't prove much of a problem for the Trojan defense.

Wide Receiver – #21 Sonny Shackelford, #5 Anthony Russo, #3 Craig Chambers, #83 Marlon Wood

Washington has always had a lot of talent lining up at wide receiver, the problem has just been getting the ball in their hands. Sonny Shackelford, Anthony Russo and Craig Chambers are all speedy receivers capable of getting behind a defense. Chambers, at 6'3", is the tallest of the three and was most likely watching the Notre Dame receivers out jump Trojan defensive backs all day long. His 328 receiving yards and two touchdowns lead the team, while Shackelford's 25 receptions are a team high. This receiving corps is athletic and should provide the Trojan secondary an opportunity to be challenged, but not so much that they will feel truly pressured. Much has been made of the Trojan pass defense's performance, or lack thereof, and the game against Washington should give them an opportunity to right the ship. Marlon Wood's 69-yard reception against Notre Dame is the team's longest play from scrimmage. It was also his only catch of the season and he shouldn't play much of a role on Saturday, but Trojan fans may want to make special note of him, as he is the son of former Trojan, Richard "Batman" Wood.

Tight End – #88 Robert Lewis, #37 Johnie Kirton

While talented, you won't see either of the Huskies' tandem of tight ends vying for postseason awards this season. They are utilized in different situations, Johnie Kirton helping the Huskies move the ball through the air and Robert Lewis doing most of his work in the running game. On the season, Kirton has 11 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown, and although Lewis isn't as good of a receiving tight end, he's chipped in with six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown of his own.

Offensive Line – #68 LT Robin Meadow, #63 LG Clay Walker, #50 C Brad Vanneman, #61 RG Tusi Sa'au, #55 RT Tui Alailefaleula

The offensive line has been shaky at best for the Huskies this season. Brad Vanneman leads them from the center position. He is the only player returning for the offense who started every game in 2004, and was added to the Rimington Award preseason watch list. After going up against Notre Dame's big, physical line, this weekend's match up should be pretty easy by comparison. The Huskies have given up multiple sacks to every defensive line with a pulse. They kept Air Force and Idaho shut out, but gave up two to UCLA, three to Notre Dame and four each to Cal and Oregon. When you have an extremely mobile quarterback, the line doesn't always know where he'll be and will oftentimes direct the defenders straight into him. That is sometimes the case with this line, which still doesn't seem entirely comfortable with a scrambling quarterback. They have performed better in the running game, but won't be confused for a dominate line there either. The Huskies are averaging just under four yards per carry and 127 yards on the ground per game.

Huskies on Defense

Defensive Line – #41 Brandon Ala, #74 Wilson Afoa, #56 Manase Hopoi, #7 Greyson Gunheim

Manase Hopoi is a one-man wrecking crew for the Huskies on the defensive line. He is a constant presence in the opponent's backfield, piling up 22 tackles for loss last season and he tormented the Trojans, picking up three sacks to go along with his six tackles for loss. This season, Hopoi has already picked up 22 tackles, 6.5 behind the line of scrimmage and four sacks. The Trojan offensive line will need to contain Hopoi and force the Huskies to bring extra defenders to pressure Matt Leinart. Greyson Gunheim is starting to show some promise at defensive end, but the Trojan tackles shouldn't have a real problem in shutting him down. Donny Mateaki is another guy to keep your eye on. After starting his team's first five games and racking up four tackles for loss and two sacks, he gave way to Brandon Ala in the starting lineup against Oregon. Opponents are averaging over four yards per carry and 157 yards per game against the Huskies' defensive front.

Linebackers – #4 Scott White, #53 Joe Lobendahn, #27 Evan Benjamin

If the Huskies are to stay in this game, they will need outstanding production from their linebackers. Joe Lobendahn leads the team in tackles and will be responsible for the interior running game of the Trojans. Notre Dame's linebackers spent the entire game within two yards of the line of scrimmage and were able to completely neutralize LenDale White between the tackles. But Lobendahn is better in the passing game and doesn't usually penetrate the line of scrimmage, as evidenced by his 2.5 tackles for loss and team-high two interceptions. Scott White, on the other hand, will be the guy coming after Matt Leinart all day long. His blitzes from the outside linebacker position have already netted him three sacks among his 4.5 tackles for loss. Evan Benjamin holds down the other outside linebacker position and is tied for second on the team with 48 tackles. He'll help in trying to prevent Reggie Bush from cutting outside once he gets into the second level. With the Trojans' renewed desire to utilize a three-step drop and quick passes, these linebackers will be severely tested on Saturday.

Cornerbacks – #6 Matt Fountaine, #28 Roy Lewis

Matt Fountaine and Roy Lewis have been absolutely abused this season in the passing game. They are giving up nearly 285 yards per game and have allowed 12 passing touchdowns. They both offer some support in run defense, but neither has an interception and they've only deflected five passes combined. Josh Okoeber should see time this Saturday as well and although he doesn't have the same physical presence, he is probably a better cornerback. He is tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

Safeties – #8 Dashon Goldson, #1 C.J. Wallace

Dashon Goldson is the best player in the Huskies' defensive secondary. He has piled up 43 tackles on the year, but is still contributing to the anemic pass defense. While he is a physical presence back there, he isn't someone that will shut down a receiver by himself. C.J. Wallace lines up next to him but spends most of his time close to the line of scrimmage. He has 48 tackles, 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage and one quarterback sack.

Huskies on Special Teams

Kicker – #10 Evan Knudson

Evan Knudson has an above average leg but seems to suffer from mental lapses during field goal tries. On the season, Knudson has hit six of nine attempts including from 40 and 46 yards. Of his three misses, however, two have come from 28 yards out. His third miss was from 55 yards, which is a stretch for most kickers, but the fact that he was even given a chance from that distance tells you something about his leg strength. On kickoffs, Knudson has forced 10 touchbacks on 25 tries and is giving opponents an average starting position of their own 26-yard line.

Punter – #17 Sean Douglas

Sean Douglas is averaging 43.9 yards on 30 punts, putting ten inside the 20 and four into the endzone. Trojan fans should note that he has yet to force a fair catch so Reggie Bush and the Trojan return game should have plenty of opportunities.

Kick Returner – #28 Roy Lewis, #83 Marlon Wood

Both Roy Lewis and Marlon Wood have the speed to return kicks, but neither has been overly impressive thus far. Lewis has a long of 38 and Wood is averaging under 20 yards per return, but things can change in a hurry against this Trojan kick coverage unit. The Trojans performed admirably against the Irish kickoff return team, however, so perhaps we've seen the last of the shoddy kickoff coverage of the beginning of the season.

Punt Returner – #5 Anthony Russo

The same can't be said for the Trojan punt coverage, however, as they were burned yet again for a touchdown return. Luckily for the Trojans, Anthony Russo has been about as big of a threat as I have this season when it comes to punt returns. He is averaging under two yards on six attempts, with a long of seven yards.


After one of the best games in recent memory, this contest between the Trojans and Huskies should be over fairly quickly, which is just fine for most Trojan fans and coaches. While quarterback Isaiah Stanback will rush for a few yards on broken plays and pick up some first downs, the Huskies don't have anywhere near the type of offensive firepower to hang with the Trojans. There was a lot of talk about how the Huskies played both the Bruins and the Irish relatively tough, even taking a lead into the fourth quarter against UCLA, but that was more a result of those teams coming out flat and shooting themselves in the foot, rather than Washington playing great football. While it's safe to say that Washington will one day be back in the race for the Pac-10 championship, that uphill climb certainly won't start this Saturday. They simply don't have any defensive scheme or personnel that can match up against the Trojan attack.

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