This season, it appears each team is headed in a different direction. The Huskies (3-0, 1-0 Pac-10) are ranked 10th in the USA Today/ESPN poll and 11th by the Associated Press after winning at Cal, while the Trojans (1-3, 0-2 Pac-10) are unranked coming off a home loss against Stanford.
Even after the rough start the Trojans have endured, they are a dangerous team with enough quickness and athleticism to rival anyone else in the country. Their three losses (against Kansas State, Oregon, and Stanford) have been by a total of only 11 points, showing that they've been in every game they've played.
That worries Husky head coach Rick Neuheisel.
"This is a very frightening team, especially given the athleticism that they have," Neuheisel said. "A number of their players I tried personally to recruit, so this is a very talented team with a new coaching staff that is just learning their way and will have a breakout game soon. I just hope it isn't this Saturday."
Both teams enter the week fresh off frustrating games. The Huskies escape at Berkeley served as a wake-up call. The Huskies are a youthful team, and for many the trip to Cal was the first road game of their collegiate careers. This week they'll return home and look to cut out the mistakes that cost them against the Bears. For the Trojans, the Stanford game was their third loss in a row as the offense against struggled all day long. Under new offensive coordinator Norm Chow, the team has went to a wide-open passing attack this year and ditched the running game that they were known for in the past. It
hasn't worked, and the Trojans have paid the price.
"We've had a difficult start to our season playing very good football teams," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "It seems like everyone we play is undefeated. We haven't been able to get our wins and it's been frustrating for us. We're making too many mistakes to beat good teams right now, and when it comes right down to the end we're battling but haven't got the victories that we've wanted."
"As we come into Washington - another established winning program - we've got to get our game together," the Trojan coach added, "or we're going to have a tough time up there."
The Huskies, meanwhile, will have to rebound after the disappointing performance against the miserable Cal team. Even with the conference win, it left Neuheisel and the rest of the coaching staff feeling concerned about certain areas of the team.
"We are excited that we find ourselves 1-0 in the conference," Neuheisel said. "A year ago, it was exactly the opposite. We're thrilled that we're off to a decent start in the conference, but we are a little bit alarmed at the way California so easily moved the ball on us and so easily stopped us at least in the first half of the game. So we've got a lot of improving to do in preparation for a very talented USC team."
The head coach mentioned four areas in particular that the team needs continue to address: the communication of the offensive line, the defensive line and the stunts that it runs, the kickoff coverage, and the play of the cornerbacks on man coverage.
Even with Southern Cal's (1-3) record, Neuheisel knows it isn't a team to take lightly, and after last week's scare he believes his team won't.
"This is as fast as college football team as I've seen in some time," Neuheisel said. "I know their win-loss record is not exactly what they'd like, but they are certainly an explosive team that can play with anybody in the country. Given our situation, we must improve if we expect to be successful this week."
"I'm hopeful that we'll have a great week of practice and we'll play our best on Saturday because I believe we'll have to if we want to be successful."
Homerun Threat: The Huskies are ranked first nationally in kickoff returns (34.8) and fifth in punt returns (18.4). Since replacing Willie Hurst as punt returner, Charles Frederick is third in the country with an average of 21.6 per return.
The Golden Leg: Derek McLaughlin was named Pac-10 Special Team's Player of
the Week after his stellar effort against Cal. He averaged 49.7 yards on his seven punts, including a 74-yard bomb that broke the previous Husky record of 73, set by Ryan Fleming. Currently, the freshman from Mesa, Arizona is ranked 15th nationally and 1st in the Pac-10 with an average punt of 44.7 yards.
Hurst's Status Improves: Willie Hurst, who didn't make the trip to California to let his pulled hamstring heal, apparently is feeling good enough to play this week. According to Neuheisel, it appears likely he will. "That's our hope," the coach said. "The training room seems to think that it will be possible that he will go."
Smelling Roses: In the last 38 meetings between USC and Washington, the winner has advanced to the Rose Bowl an amazing 23 times. This year the Rose Bowl will host the National Championship game, so the odds would be a lot lower, but still it's a stat worth thinking about.
Dawgs on TV - Finally: The Huskies will be televised this Saturday on FOX
Sports Net, their first live televised game since the season-opener against Michigan. The announcers will be Barry Tompkins, former Husky Warren Moon, and John Jackson. Meanwhile, ABC has picked up the game at UCLA on October 13.
Neuheisel's Monday Press Conference
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