One More for the Road
USC will have four regular-season games remaining after playing Washington, but today’s Pacific 10 Conference game at Husky Stadium marks the end of a road for the Trojans.
Fifth-ranked USC is playing its fourth road game in five weeks, and the Trojans know they must finish the tough midseason stretch better than they started it if they want to stay in the race for the Rose Bowl and, possibly, the national championship.
The Trojans, 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-10, lost their conference opener in triple overtime at California on Sept. 27, won at Arizona State, then defeated Stanford at the Coliseum before winning at Notre Dame.
With third-ranked Virginia Tech having lost to West Virginia earlier this week, USC’s game against Washington State next Saturday is shaping up as a possible showdown between top-five teams.
Washington, however, could spoil the matchup and eliminate the Trojans from contention for the conference and national titles.
“A lot of fans are looking at next week’s game, but that’s not going to mean anything if we don’t take care of business against Washington,” USC running back Hershel Dennis said. “This is like a championship game for us.”
For the second consecutive week, USC is seeking victory in a stadium where the Trojans have struggled.
USC, which won last week at Notre Dame Stadium for only the second time since 1981, has not won at Husky Stadium since 1993. The Trojans have lost nine of their last 13 games in a venue where crowds are among the nation’s loudest.
Coach Pete Carroll said last year’s victory at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium and the win at Notre Dame had boosted the Trojans’ confidence. Today’s game is another chance to reverse a losing trend.
“We’re trying to establish that we’re comfortable going where we’ve got to go for a lot of these places that are year-in, year-out matchups, and play real good football,” Carroll said. “It’s an important game in that regard, as well the rest of the stuff it carries.”
USC, averaging a conference-best 39.4 points a game, resumes Pac-10 play after routing Notre Dame for the second year in a row.
Quarterback Matt Leinart is coming off his best game, having completed 26 of 34 passes against the Fighting Irish for 351 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Leinart ranks first in the Pac-10 and 10th in the nation in passing efficiency.
“Guys are getting open -- that’s the bottom line,” said Leinart, who has passed for 900 yards and nine touchdowns with only one interception in his last three games. “I’m just hitting open receivers and making the right decisions.”
Washington Coach Keith Gilbertson apparently is impressed.
“Nobody has stopped them,” he said. “They have such balance and diversity in their offense. Everyone in the skilled positions contributes; all the backs get positive yards and the front plays well and the quarterback is playing well. So you just hope that you can slow them down.”
After getting routed by UCLA and suffering an embarrassing home defeat against Nevada, Washington (4-3, 2-1) rebounded last week with a 38-17 victory at then-No. 22 Oregon State.
Quarterback Cody Pickett completed 19 of 40 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns with one interception as the Huskies stayed in the Rose Bowl race.
Reggie Williams caught eight passes for 64 yards, and Charles Frederick caught nine passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Frederick also returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown.
USC cornerback Marcell Allmond likened the Husky receiving duo to USC’s Mike Williams and Keary Colbert.
“If you concentrate too much on stopping one of those guys, the other one can kill you,” he said.
USC players and Carroll said they would be happy to put this stretch of road behind. The Trojans play three of their final four games at the Coliseum, against Washington State, UCLA and Oregon State.
But all of those games, and a final road game against Arizona, will drop in significance if the Trojans cannot get past Washington.
Carroll said his team would not be overconfident against the Huskies.
“They’re obviously a good football team that can put together a great game,” he said.