Let's Watch the Huskies Beat the Trojans

There can be no bigger upset or shocker in the history of Husky football than what you're about to watch this coming weekend. Never mind what you think of me or my optimistic way of thinking, the Huskies are going to beat USC and will become ranked for the first time in years.

This will be an incredibly difficult task, but it is possible.

And, if I've ever been right, I hope it's for this game. That's the way these kids are preparing and that is the way their coaches are thinking. I spent some time with all the coaches after the game against Idaho and I could feel their sense of anticipation. Oh sure, they were trying hard to savor their victory, but you could tell they were already thinking about what could be.

The coaching ties again are going to make this an extremely interesting chess match. It's pretty obvious the two teams know each other's plays, personnel, and even terminology of systems. They know each other's snap counts, audibles, and that's not to understate their knowledge of coverage rules, route adjustments, blocking schemes, and pressure tactics.

From a schematic standpoint these two teams have obvious similarities and that may even the playing board. Steve Sarkisian and Doug Nussmeier can also call a great offensive game. They have succeeded in turning Jake Locker into a really improved quarterback. He plays like an NFL player does at that position. He is obviously the field general, and the ball is in his hands every offensive play. He will need to be the best player on the field against USC. He will need to put on the best performance of his whole career. He can do it and I don't care what they say about whoever ends up being the starting quarterback for the Trojans; Jake Locker will be the best quarterback on the field. No question about it, this may be his game of a lifetime.

Considering where the Trojans will be ranked coming in, and the fact that they have beaten the Huskies seven straight years, this will become the biggest signature home win of this program since Miami 2000.

I was also talking with Coach Don James at the Idaho game and his record was 9-8 against the Trojans, a team that he also considered the benchmark program on the west coast. During my own career our teams went 6-7-1, and even though I knew they would usually beat us on California kids in recruiting, we still went after the same kids just because we knew they could only take so many and we were glad to take the next kid on the list. Face it - kids want to play, and when you're good, it's hard for them to break into the line-up. That is precisely why the Huskies now have Chris Polk and James Johnson, arguably the two best skill players in the program not named Jake Locker.

So what do the Huskies do in order to win this game? First they have to expect to win it by one. Keep it close and try to win it at the end, exactly like USC did last week against Ohio State. To win close games you need to eliminate big mistakes: No turnovers by the Dawgs, and three by USC will do.

The next key is to keep the defense on the sidelines by ball controlling with the offense. That means running the football and moving the chains by getting first downs with short throws. A ball-control offense is always critical in big games but it also appears to be the strength of this year's team.

Next on the must-do list is to break even or win the kicking game. The Husky kicker, Erik Folk will need to be perfect on all of his attempts and will have to be more accurate on all his kickoffs. Because he does not have a strong enough leg to kickoff into the end zone, he needs to be perfect on his direction in order to help the coverage.

Will Mahan, the punter, needs to simply continue to do what he has done the first two games. He will be the best punter on the field, and if he can average his own number (46 yards per punt) it would be fine. It will be key to make the Trojans use a long field on every possession.

What would really help is to block a punt or field goal or return a kick for a touchdown. Ohio State came close on two punts and the Trojan snapper cost them a safety due to a bad snap. The Buckeyes then returned the ensuing kickoff to the Trojans' 43-yard line. If the Huskies could get a score in the kicking game and not give up anything in return it could be the difference. The Huskies have gotten little out of their kick-off return game so far, and conversely have surrendered too much when kicking off themselves. Field position will be critical in winning a game of this magnitude. They would really help themselves to win by creating a score in the kicking game or by the defense. Two scores would be even better.

Watching USC play The Ohio State University was interesting to me because Jim Heacock, one of our old coaches, is the defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes. Despite a short field touchdowns by the Trojans, set up by an interception, the score was tied 10-10 at half time. Jim mixed his defenses well and it was obvious that Matt Barkley's position triggered some calls. When he was under center with two tight ends or two backs in the backfield, the Trojans were more likely to run or use play action, and when he was in shot-gun they were more likely to pass. Ohio State's defensive linemen did a great job of getting push against the vaunted Trojan offensive line, and his use of X stunts up front kept pressure on Barkley in passing situations. They also did a great job of getting their hands up on Barkley's three-step drops and batted down a few balls.

No question the Trojans have a stable of running backs, but considering Chris Polk almost became one himself, he should have an added incentive to do well. Getting a great game out of him would be another key to winning: Just keep moving the chains and hold onto the rock.

I know the Huskies will be massive underdogs but that is not their concern. They will play hard and play fast and they intend to win. They have now tasted success, but getting a win here will be the biggest win in all of their lives. This could be huge. It would be a game remembered for years. And it is possible.

Winning is possible because the Husky coaches know what the Trojans do and how they do it. It is possible because we will have the best player on the field. It is possible because there is a completely different makeup to the program now. There are expectations now. There is fight now. There is a will to win now and none of these existed in this program for the last seven years or so. That just coincides with the Trojans' dominance of the series. Remember though that the Huskies almost beat the Trojans in 2006 and 2007 without this sort of thinking and without this group of coaches. Who knows what will happen, but anything is possible when you think it is. This group of players and coaches think it is.

So why not?

We all know how loaded USC is talent-wise. It works both ways for them in recruiting. They are so good they literally get everyone the want. Most are highly sought and coveted by many schools. It seems to me that anyone they get a commitment from almost automatically becomes a 5-star, whatever that means. They do an excellent job of recruiting, and they do have Pete Carroll, and they are in Los Angeles, and they have been the best team in the conference for seven years. They have Heisman Trophy winners, national championships, and are in the biggest city in America. They even have a pooper scooper who follows their horse around on game day.

Come on, USC is the premier franchise in the Pac-10 Conference. They have been the best football program in the western part of the country. But up to the last half-decade, UW has been right there too. For the last 40 years, those two programs have represented the most consistently successful football programs. They were and now are football-driven schools. They have won more championships or finished second between the two of them than the rest of the conference combined.

But the Trojans are the benchmark for college football on the west coast, so you know your program is back when you have beaten the men of Troy. Can the Huskies possibly pull out a win? Of course they can, but they are going to have to play almost perfect football in order to do so.

If that doesn't happen, then so what? You learn from it and move on. But if it does, then it will be the biggest win since the Dawgs tamed the Hurricanes. The Huskies will then be ranked and heading out for their first road trip of the season tied for first place in the Pac-10 Conference, with a chance of becoming the outright leader with a win over Stanford.

How cool will that be?


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