After a calm bye week and some needed conference help, USC returns on action this week in a Thursday night showdown with the Washington Huskies, the team Trojan head coach Steve Sarkisian used to coach. Though the Trojans have had their issues on Thursday, Sarkisian believes the team is focused and mentally prepared.
"I thought the guys were really well focused and exactly where they need to be," Sarkisian said.
While the Trojans will be tested by the Huskies on the field, there are a number of Trojan players who will literally be tested off the field right before the game. Adding to the stress and distraction of preparing for a Chris Petersen team, Sarkisian said that there are actually a number of players who will be taking midterms right before the game is played. This has caused Sarkisian to change some things around to accommodate the difference in schedule.
"It being a Thursday night game, we've got some different things in our schedule that we work with," Sarkisian said. As far as tomorrow, we go in the A.M. instead of in the afternoon, which we normally would do. We've got guys in class throughout the evening tomorrow night, so we'll meet Thursday morning, as a team, at the hotel. I actually have a few guys taking midterms in the middle of the day. They'll be coming back to campus to take midterms before the game on Thursday. We'll handle it really well, we've got really good people in place to take care of our guys, to make sure they're getting everything done whether it's on the field or off the field."
With the formalities seemingly taken care of, the only thing the Trojans have left to do is prove that they can handle a Washington team with a hard-nosed defense, but a true freshman starter.
College Football Podcast: Week 6 Preview with Tom Dienhart
Washington at USC
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Spread: USC -17
Three Things to Watch
1. The Return of Kevon Seymour
After an injury kept him out against Stanford and Arizona State, USC cornerback Kevon Seymour returns to the team in time to balance the loss of defensive lineman Claude Pelon and wide receiver Darreus Rogers. Seymour has been an underrated performer for the Trojans over the past couple seasons and his veteran presence provides a major boost to a younger secondary.
The Trojans have been fairly fortunate when it comes to injuries, especially considering what's happened to the rest of the conference, but it is catching up to them a little this week and Seymour's return will help to offset the loss of a leader like Pelon on the defensive line. Seymour clearly cannot replace what Pelon gives the defensive line, but his ability to blanket a receiver ought to come in handy against a freshman quarterback with a better completion percentage and yards per attempt average than Josh Rosen.
The Huskies may not be putting up Baylor passing numbers, but Browning is extremely capable and Seymour has a great habit of taking away opposing quarterbacks' favorite targets.
2. Avoiding Costly Self-Inflicted Mistakes
This isn't coming out of the "Things To Watch For" section until the Trojans prove that they're capable of limiting mistakes. Ten penalties against Arizona State for a total of 91 yards moved the Trojans to No. 96 in the nation for penalties. The Trojans have 27 flags on the year, averaging 6.8 penalties per game. Their average penalty yardage per game isn't as offensive, but spotting your opponents 67.5 free yards a game is definitely a questionable practice.
USC's opponents have committed 10 fewer penalties and only average around 4.3 flags a game. They're also only giving up 44 yards a game via the penalty, which means the Trojans consistently lose the discipline battle. They're No. 107 in the country in drawing penalties and No. 96 in the nation in committing them, these types of behaviors have cost more than their fair share of teams in close games. One of the ways in which lesser-talented teams are able to upset teams like USC is by limiting mistakes and allowing your opponent to beat themselves. USC excels at beating itself and Petersen is smart enough to notice that trend.
3. Browning's Ability to Cope with USC's Pass Rush
As if USC needed any more encouragement from UCLA's loss to Arizona State this past weekend, the Sun Devils may have laid a great foundation for dealing with freshmen quarterbacks in the Pac-12.
By loading the box and blitzing with eight players on nearly every down, Arizona State was able to disrupt Josh Rosen, stop Paul Perkins, and limit UCLA's big play ability. This might be the key for the Trojans against a guy like Browning. The offenses are different, but the theory remains the same; if the Trojans can get in Browning's face the entire afternoon, they can reduce the Huskies' ability to hurt them on offense.
Steve Sarkisian stressed turnovers again this week, highlighting that the Trojans have a chance to be unique in the way that they create opportunity through turnovers and take away opportunity by taking care of the football on offense.
“I'm not backing off that either,” Sarkisian said. “I gave a big video presentation again this morning, ending with the Kam Chancellor play from last night, the Monday Night game and just what a classic example of punching the ball out and the play not ever being over. So, we're not gonna back off that. We think we can be unique that way creating turnovers. I know we had a little lull there for a couple games, but I just don't want to back off it. I want to make sure that we're attacking the football defensively and we're doing everything in our power to take care of it on offense and special teams. That's not gonna change.”
USC has the horses to win this game and win it impressively. Washington is an impressive defensive team, but its offense has yet to match the point totals of the conference's elite. The Huskies are always a worthy opponent and Thursday should be no different. Ultimately, the difference in this game should be the two quarterbacks and these offenses.
The Trojans are one of the most efficient teams in the nation, a fact highlighted throughout the week by Petersen and media preparing for the first College Football Playoff rankings. An efficient and explosive offense are great for talk radio and highlight reels, but the Trojans need to begin assembling their resume for the Playoff and these are the types of games pundits mention when the season comes to a close. It's a game USC should win, are favored to win, and probably expect to win.
Of course, that's always been the problem with the Trojans, hasn't it?
Prediction: USC 41, Washington 23
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for Reign Of Troy, USC’s FanSided affiliate. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.