A look at Saturday’s matchup between No. 21 USC (3-1, 2-0) at No. 17 Washington (3-1, 0-1) at 12:30 p.m., TV: Fox/11, Radio: 790
USC quarterback Matt Fink vs. Washington’s secondary. Down to just one scholarship quarterback, the Trojans looked like they were in serious trouble. But with Fink at the helm last week, USC dominated a Utah defense that ranked sixth in the nation in points allowed. This week, Fink could have trouble replicating that performance. The Huskies, who have allowed just 213 passing yards per game, are known for disguising coverages, which Fink admitted earlier this week will make his job more difficult. Expect him to lean on receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who had 232 yards and a touchdown against Utah.
USC (443 ypg, 33.3 ppg): Fink opened USC’s season as its third quarterback on the depth chart, but in his season debut, he showed no fear in launching the ball down the field. Whether he’ll be able to so freely test Washington deep is another question, but Fink has proven he has the skills to succeed in the Air Raid offense. Where he could use some more help is in the run game. The trio of Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, and Markese Stepp were completely shut down last Friday, as they gained just 13 net yards. That won’t fly in Seattle, where Fink is going to need something outside of huge plays to sustain drives. The less pressure on Fink, the better for USC, which would have to turn to a walk-on converted safety if Fink is forced out.
Washington (461.3 ypg, 40.8 ppg): After transferring from Georgia, quarterback Jacob Eason has quickly made himself at home in Washington’s high-powered offense. Armed with a cannon right arm, Eason has completed 73% of his passes and proven himself to be one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous quarterbacks. His favorite target thus far has been his tight end, Hunter Bryant, who leads the nation in receiving yards (285) by a tight end. But the Huskies are just as capable on the ground, where they have a trio of effective running backs. Salvon Ahmed, Richard Newton and Sean McGrew have all rushed for more than 200 yards through four games. Newton, the freshman, has six touchdowns.
USC (421 ypg, 24 ppg): An impressive, second-half effort from its young secondary last Friday was an encouraging sign, but USC’s defense should still be seriously worried about Eason, who’s likely to attack them early and often. The absence of safety Talanoa Hufanga is huge, considering how crucial he was to the defense’s turnaround last week. To mitigate some of the pressure on a short-handed secondary, USC will probably blitz to make Eason uncomfortable. That worked last week against Utah’s Tyler Huntley, but Eason is on another level as a passer. Freshman Drake Jackson, who reemerged last week, and Christian Rector, whose ankle is a bit healthier this week, will be vital in creating that pressure.
Washington (332 ypg, 18.3 ppg): Unlike USC’s bend-but-don’t-break approach, Washington’s defense hasn’t bent all that much this season. Each of its four opponents have been held to 20 points or fewer this season. That’s largely thanks to an impressive effort against the pass. The Huskies’ experienced front is led by senior Benning Potoa’e, who switched from outside linebacker to defensive line in the offseason and has three sacks in four games. Senior safety Myles Bryant anchors an impressive secondary that has four interceptions in its last two games. Count on Washington’s defensive backfield to clog throwing lanes in zone coverage, daring Fink to beat them.
After blocking four kicks or punts last season, good for 10th-best in the nation, USC is already halfway to that total in 2019. Defensive end Connor Murphy blocked a 41-yard field goal by Utah, giving the Trojans another big play on special teams. Only 13 teams have more than one block this season, while three teams have managed a third blocked kick or punt (Ohio State, Northern Illinois, and Penn State).
Since USC pulled off an upset over No. 4 Washington in Seattle in November 2016, the Huskies have lost just one game at home. But if any team is accustomed to beating Washington on its home turf, it’s USC. The Trojans have lost just one time in their last seven trips to Seattle.
Quarterback Kedon Slovis will miss the game while he remains in the concussion protocol. ... Hufanga will also be out after entering the concussion protocol earlier this week. Chase Williams will start in his place... Cornerback Olaijah Griffin was ruled out as he continues to suffer from back spasms and a bulging disc. Freshman Chris Steele will receive his second straight start in his place, while Isaac Taylor-Stuart (concussion protocol) has been cleared to play across from him.