Winners of 14 out of their last 16, 39 of 42, and 62 of 68 ... you get the picture. Those surly, beefy, All-American laden USC Trojans roll into Husky Stadium on Saturday – and it only figures that they're just hitting their stride as the Huskies try to find a way to snip a two-game losing streak.
And just like every other coach that has looked at Washington film, Coach Pete Carroll immediately focuses on one U-Dubber in particular. You guessed it – Jake Locker.
"(Locker) has just lit it up for a redshirt freshman," Carroll stated in his Tuesday press conference, "as good a first showing as a guy could have, I think. (Washington) has built the offense around the QB ... they know they have a great one in this kid. He poses a lot of problems."
"We have to do everything we can to slow him down and keep him from being THE factor that controls the game."
Carroll also welcomes the noise levels – and the rain – expected on Saturday. "The Nebraska game gave us that road crowd experience, and we played in rain here last week (in Los Angeles, a 47-14 romp over WSU), so we feel like we're ready for it."
"But just in case, we may turn the sprinklers on one day in practice just to be sure."
And as for the state of his team after 1/3 of the season gone? "We're really pleased with our progress right now. The players are pumped and performing at a real high level."
"I think we're just finding out what we can do."
USC OFFENSE: Pro set
2006 STARTERS RETURNING: 7 on offense, 10 on defense
Offensively, it's just another USC Heisman candidate in senior QB John David Booty. He's been efficient enough, hitting on 70 percent of his passes for 629 yards and nine scores while being picked twice. He's thrown for two TDs in 12 of his 16 career starts. Of course, he's got plenty of firepower to choose from in 6-5 junior Patrick Turner (50 career receptions) and sophomore Vidal Hazelton, while senior TE Fred Davis (211 receiving yards) caught a pair of scoring strikes against the Cougars last week. Booty has only been sacked twice, and will be well protected by a huge line led by senior All-American Sam Baker. But the real riches are at tailback, where the Trojans can choose from senior Chauncey Washington (3 TDs), sophomores Stafon Johnson (3 TDs) and C.J. Gable, and freshman sensation Joe McKnight. They've combined to rush for 605 yards on 82 tries – a 7.3 yards-per-carry average. No wonder Emmanuel Moody took off for Gainesville.
Defensively, Southern California returns 10 starters from 2006. And if you don't count Nebraska's 14-point fourth quarter against second and third teamers, they look to be pretty stout. They certainly had their share of trouble with Isaiah Stanback last season (a surprisingly difficult 26-20 Trojan victory), but they'll have no doubt learned from it. Big hitting LB Keith Rivers leads USC in tackles with 30, while DE Kyle Moore leads the team with a pair of interceptions. Sophomore free safety Taylor Mays – the only Washingtonian on the Trojan roster - is USC's third leading tackler. Senior defensive end Lawrence Jackson (23 career sacks) promises to be a handful, as do tackles Sedrick Ellis and Fili Moala, two-year starters each. USC has injury problems at corner, with two-year starter Cary Harris questionable. If he can't go, sophomore Shareece Wright will step in.
Of course, the Trojans had to find another kicker after the sudden death of Mario Danelo back in January. Placekicker David Buehler has filled the void so far, hitting on all three of his field goal attempts and missing but one PAT in 18 tries. Senior Desmond Reed isn't DeSean Jackson, but he's a dangerous return man in his own right.
GAME OUTLOOK: Two weeks ago, the most ardent Husky fans were actually thinking of things like a visit from the ESPN Game Day crew this week. Alas, fortunes haven't been so kind for Washington, who were somewhat bruised by a more powerful Ohio State and then suddenly rediscovered its propensity for giving up the big play against UCLA a week ago. They seem to be catching USC at the wrong time – the Trojans have looked downright dominant in their past two games. Rain is in the forecast, and even though Coach Carroll says he's looking forward to it, he can't replicate the expected low 50s temperatures in Inglewood. And that could help to be an equalizer. Then again, so could a meteor shower. Washington will certainly throw their best haymakers, but so did Chuck Wepner against Muhammad Ali.
To pull this miracle off, the Huskies will have to play an absolute perfect game, which although is a slim possibility, could happen - but USC will - at the same time - have to play a FAR FROM PERFECT game. Like, so far from perfect that they wind up having to go to a walk-on third string quarterback late in the game.
Sorry, I don't think so.
PREDICTION: USC Trojans 41, UW Huskies 17
Preview: #1 USC (4-0, 1-0)
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