Déjà vu all over again

It just seems apropos to exhume the opening line from last years' Husky/Trojan preview - written a year ago to the very day – and apply it to this Saturday's visit by the team that is arguably among the best in collegiate history. Namely, that it's a lot like comparing a quasar to a black hole.

#1 Southern California (3-0, 6-0) at Washington (0-3, 1-5)
Husky Stadium
Saturday, October 22 - 12:35 PM (PST) – ABC TV
Series All-time: USC leads, 45-26-4
Last Meeting: October 23, 2004 – USC 38, Washington 0
Line: USC by 31


Welcome to Streak Central, population USC. The "MattReggieTV.com" channel (now an integral part of Troy's official website) has won 28 straight games, 13 straight in enemy territory, seven straight over top-ten opponents, and with a win will equal a school record with 19 straight PAC-10 victories. Saturday will be their fifth road game in seven outings, but it really doesn't matter where they play. The Trojans will close the regular season with four-of-five at home, finishing with that other L.A. school that has yet to taste defeat. Their BCS ranking is a just shade short of perfection (.993), and their motive is clear – to defend their conference and BCS national titles in that most hallowed of PAC-10 grounds, the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, what else can be said about the current state of Washington football that hasn't already been addressed - and debated, debunked, and defiled. And as the losses continue to mount, the goals become ever modest … this week, one of the goals will be simply to enjoy the experience of facing Numero Uno.

USC owns a three-game winning streak in the series, outscoring the Huskies 122-44 – including last year's 38-0 shutout, the first against a Washington team since 1981. And the tone – even from both coaches – suggests nobody should expect any miracles to emanate from Montlake.

"The key thing," states Tyrone Willingham regarding his chore for the week "is to get us to perform and execute at our best … to execute, have fun and play."

"And we have got to get help from them," Willingham adds mildly. "Because there are not many people who think we can win the game."

Of course, USC head coach Pete Carroll was careful with his words on Monday, playing the coach-speak role in suggesting things that he felt his Trojans could improve on.

But the media buzzword in Los Angeles on Tuesday became ‘letdown', and a more animated Carroll met the topic head on – even daring to challenge the notion to those in attendance. "I don't care what ever you got; bring it on," the USC head coach impressed at his press luncheon. "It is really important how we handle this. It is a statement about our confidence to handle the next one and the next one and the next one."

"We talked (to the team before practice) yesterday," he continued, "about ‘how this is a classic situation where all of the media is going to ask you all of the questions about letting down the next week. Let's go out and show (the media) we can go the other way, and we can perform better then they imagine us to perform.' And they jumped out at practice Monday."

"We want end this (portion of the schedule) right. We want to put together a game where we can show that we are getting better. Now we are on our way."

Indeed, it sounds as if Goliath is planning on making sure 31-point underdog David leaves his slingshot in the locker room.

USC OFFENSE
TEAM STATS:  48.7 points, 613.5 yards (1st PAC-10, 
             271.8 rush, 341.2 pass) 
             26-32 in Red Zone offense (.813, 5th PAC-10)

RUSHING: Reggie Bush 86-761-9 TD (8.8), long 76
         LenDale White 91-649-11 TD (7.1), long 46
         
PASSING: Matt Leinart 125-198-5 (.631),  
         1947 yards, 12 TD
               
RECEIVING: Dwayne Jarrett 39-568-9 TD (14.6), long 61
           Steve Smith 31-665-1 TD (21.5), long 67
           Reggie Bush 17-226-2 TD (13.3), long 40


The numbers exceed staggering. The Trojans are on pace to be the first offense ever to deliver a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers, and two 1,000-yard receivers over the same season. They'll have a difficult time keeping pace with Houston's 625-yard per game average of 1989, but they should certainly shatter California's all-time mark of 6,021 total yards in a season by averaging "a mere" 400 per game the rest of the way. These guys are averaging 8.0 yards per play. If the season were to end today, that would be an all-time NCAA record.

Where to begin? Everyone knows who the bullets are, but it's still funky spinning the chamber. Defending Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart has been responsible for 90 touchdowns in his 34 career starts, and just added to his legend with his cold-blooded, fourth-down, over-the-top heave to Dwayne Jarrett and follow-on QB sneak to beat Notre Dame last Saturday evening. The probable first pick in next year's NFL draft also holds the PAC-10 mark for 212-straight throws without an interception (during a single season). He has Jarrett (39 receptions, 9 TDs) and Steve Smith (31 receptions, 665 yards) to play catch with, along with senior All-American TE Domnique Byrd. In his two starts against Washington, Leinart has thrown for 568 yards and six touchdowns. Oh, and some guy named Reggie Bush (13 career TD receptions) is somewhat adept at accepting the lefty's offerings.

In their 30 games together, juniors Bush and LenDale White have combined for 4,689 yards and 57 rushing (76 overall) touchdowns. Together, they have scored at least one TD in every game – and in 15 of those both have found paydirt. Bush, who last week earned his fifth career PAC-10 POW bracelet for his Golden Dome exploits, leads the nation in all-purpose yards - yet White has banged his way to the team rushing title two consecutive years. Third tailback and kick-returner Desmond Reed tore an ACL against the Fighting Irish, and will miss the rest of the season. Senior fullback David Kirtman (Mercer Island) is both a solid blocker and valued third-down receiving option.

The starting Trojan offensive line averages 312 pounds, led by senior right tackle Taitusi Lutui and junior center Ryan Kalil. A scary thought, Lutui is the lone senior up front - and the same starting five has answered the bell every week. They've given up eight sacks as a unit.

GAME OUTLOOK: After last week's heart-stopper in South Bend, and looking forward to finally getting back home, the Trojans may look to get an early jump and close ranks (ala Miami vs. Temple last week, where the Hurricanes scored 27 in the first 10 minutes and then went into hibernation the rest of the way). So impatience to impress could lead to some early trouble, and an early stop or two will serve to rev up an audience hoping for some semblance of competitiveness. But there are simply too many horses for the out-manned Huskies to keep lassoed. Something similar to the California debacle could be in the offing.

USC DEFENSE
TEAM STATS:  21.2 points, 350.3 yards (2nd PAC-10, 
             101.2 rush, 249.2 pass)
             15-20 in Red Zone defense (.750, 
             3rd PAC-10) 

TACKLES/TFL:  Oscar Lua 52/0.5
              Keith Rivers 37/3.0
              Frostee Rucker 34/7.5

PASSES DEF/INT:  Darnell Bing 6/1
                 John Walker 5/2 
                 Lawrence Jackson 3/0

SACKS:       Frostee Rucker 4.0
             Lawrence Jackson 4.0
             Sedrick Ellis 2.5


After five seasons, Coach Carroll still employs himself as his own defensive coordinator. Understandably, his charges haven't equaled the pace of the 2004 unit that caused 38 turnovers and 50 sacks while giving up 13 points and 275 yards per game. But when you lose six NFL-caliber defenders, those things happen.

Still, the Trojans are pretty active up front, with bookends Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson combining for eight sacks so far in 2005. Jackson was a freshman All-American a year ago. Interior linemen Sedrick Ellis and La Juan Ramsey have 2.5 sacks apiece, as USC averages seven stops behind the line per game.

With senior linebacker Dallas Sartz deciding to take an injury redshirt after dislocating his shoulder against Arkansas, the linebacking corps is somewhat compromised. Junior middle man Oscar Lua does lead the team in tackles with 42, while sophomore Keith Rivers (37 tackles) looks like he'll be a good one outside and coming off the edge.

Safeties Darnell Bing and Scott Ware share 38 tackles between them – Bing has a team-leading five passes defensed – and sophomore Josh Pinkard has made an impact with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Senior CB William Buchanon is fighting a hip injury and is questionable, so Pinkard will be given a look at corner this week, since only true freshmen are likely available to back up senior starters Justin Wyatt and John Walker.

GAME OUTLOOK: In 2004, the Trojan defense whupped up on everyone, good or bad. This year's edition has been more forgiving, especially through the air. Still, their defense ranks better than Oregon's – and Washington was only able to muster 238 total yards against the Ducks. The Huskies were shut out last year against USC, and looked hopelessly lost for two-and-a-half quarters in Eugene. Change could be coming.

USC SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Mario Danelo 2-3 FG 
               (long 36), 40-41 XP

PUNTING:       Tom Malone 18-43.8 (long 62),  
               .278 inside the 20

KICK RETURNS:  Reggie Bush 12-16.4 (long 30), 0 TD
               Desmond Reed 5-38.8 (long 51), 0 TD (INJ) 

PUNT RETURNS:  Reggie Bush 10-5.3 (long 24), 0 TD


With the firepower that is the Southern California offense, sophomore place-kicker Mario Danelo is almost an afterthought. Since USC has only attempted three field goals, Danelo has been on the field three less times that kickoff specialist Troy Van Blarcom. If the name sounds familiar to Northwest football pundits it should be - he is the son of former WSU (and NFL) kicker Joe Danelo. Senior all-American punter Tom Malone is a two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist, and will leave Southern California as perhaps their most decorated punter. His 43.8-yard average is dead on his average of 2005.

Everybody knows that you kick it away from Reggie Bush – though in really it has mattered little to anyone who has employed that option. Still, he does have three kick returns for scores in his career. Another this year could seal his Heisman award.

The Trojans haven't blocked a kick this year, nor have they had one blocked.

GAME OUTLOOK: You could say that Washington has a kicking-game advantage, but since USC doesn't do much kicking (except for the kickoff variety – they have three field-goal attempts and average three punts per game), the point is probably moot. The mercurial Bush hasn't broken one yet this year – and that point was noted by Coach Carroll during the weekly press conference. Here is just the kind of game to end THAT little streak.

KIBBLES AND BITS


The Trojans are four straight conference wins short of California's all-time PAC-10 mark of 22 … USC needs 282 yards of total offense on Saturday to reach 3,960 yards for the current campaign. Why mention it? Because if Washington continues to hold to their current game average of 360 yards over their final five contests, they will wind up with 3,960 yards for the entire season ... Besides Kirtman, backup FB Sean Kelly (Bellarmine Prep) and reserve punter Taylor Odegard (Mercer Island) are the only Washingtonians on the Trojan roster. The Huskies boast 17 players from the greater Los Angeles area ... USC is 1-3-1 in "rain" games played in Seattle. Alas, (at press time) the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies. Washington is 1-7-1 all-time against top-ranked teams, losing their last four by a combined 178-28 … Might be a little early to suggest, but it isn't that far-fetched to imagine an Apple Cup featuring a pair of winless (in conference) teams. The last time that happened? 1969 –- the same year Washington last hosted a top-ranked team …


Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@COMCAST.NET

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