Surging USC looks to derail title chase of No. 4 Washington
SEATTLE (AP) — Even in an alternate reality, the results Chris Petersen has gotten from his team would likely be the same.
Except it might not be Washington that Petersen has ranked No. 4 in the country and positioned for a run at a Pac-12 championship and the College Football Playoff. If the decisions made in late 2013 played out differently, Petersen could just as easily be having this much success at USC.
But it’s the Huskies (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12, No. 4 CFP) that Petersen has on the verge of a special season with Saturday’s game against USC as one of the biggest remaining obstacles on Washington’s schedule.
“You put the tape on and you’re like ‘OK, first of all it’s USC.’ Then you put it on and it’s like, ‘Oh, OK. I get it. I know why there winning now,’” Petersen said. “They’re playing really good and they have that talent they’ve always had.”
Petersen is correct that the Trojans are surging. After the shaky beginning to the season and the switch to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold at quarterback, the Trojans have looked the part for more than a month of being arguably the most talented team in the Pac-12. USC (6-3, 5-2) is not ranked in the Top 25 but did find its way into the CFP rankings this week at No. 20. The five-game win streak is the longest of any team in the Pac-12 outside the state of Washington.
“You earn respect by winning ballgames, that’s just a fact,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “The reason that we are where we are is we have had a good run, and now we’ve got to keep that run going if we want to climb further.”
While Oregon and Washington State are the true rivals for the Huskies, there is a lengthy history of important benchmark wins against USC. One of those came last year . Even in a season where Washington finished with just seven wins, a 17-12 victory over the Trojans in Los Angeles was important in helping validate what Petersen was trying to build.
Saturday could be another one of those moments, even though Washington is the favorite. No team in the Pac-12 South is hotter than the Trojans and a win would certainly boost Washington’s resume in the opinion of the College Football Playoff committee.
“I think our guys know. You know how big a game this is; it’s USC, all those type of things,” Petersen said. “Everybody. I certainly wouldn’t do it thinking I need to get these guys more motivated and fired up.”
Here’s what else to watch as Washington goes for two straight over the Trojans:
YOUNG GUNS: Washington QB Jake Browning continues to put up record-setting numbers that have put him into the Heisman Trophy discussion. Browning has already set a single-season school record with 34 touchdown passes after throwing for six TDs last week against California.
Not to be outdone is how well Darnold has played during USC’s streak. In six games as the starter, Darnold has thrown 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His pass efficiency rating of 168.1 ranks seventh nationally — but still lags far behind Browning and his national-leading mark of 202.8.
TAILBACK U: Over the past three games, Ronald Jones II has been responsible for the rediscovery of the Trojans’ run game. Jones rushed for 223 yards two weeks ago against California and followed up with 171 yards and four touchdowns last week against Oregon. The growth of the run game is part of the reason USC has scored 40 or more points in four of the past five games.
SPEED VS. SPEED: There might not be a more entertaining individual matchup than Washington wide receiver John Ross against USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. The duo is among the two fastest players in the Pac-12 and each among the elite at their positions. Jackson will be trying to slow down Ross’ march toward at school record in touchdown receptions. After a career-high 208 yards receiving and three touchdowns last week against California, Ross is just four TD receptions shy of the single-season school mark of 18 held by Mario Bailey.
MAKING STOPS: USC’s defense held Oregon to 288 total yards last week, the fewest yards by the Ducks since 2009. The task against Washington will be more difficult. The Huskies have the No. 2 scoring offense in the country averaging 48.3 points per game and last week against California had 31 first downs, rolled up 704 total yards and scored on 10 drives.
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