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#17 USC takes on Washington on Thursday
By Brian Graham
WASHINGTON HUSKIES (2-2) at USC TROJANS (3-1)
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles, CA
Kickoff: Thursday, 9:00 p.m. ET
Line: USC -17, Total: 56
No. 17 USC looks to care of business on Thursday night when it entertains conference foe Washington.
The Huskies failed to cover for the first time this season (3-1 ATS) in their last game on Sept. 26 when they lost 30-24 at home to 1-point underdog California. That same day the Trojans embarrassed Arizona State in Tempe with a 42-14 thrashing to improve to 3-1 ATS. These Pac-12 schools are meeting for the first time since 2012 when USC won 24-14 at Washington. Since 2002, the Trojans hold a commanding 9-2 SU advantage in this series, but the Huskies have the 6-5 ATS edge in this timeframe. Bettors of both schools have some nice trends to look at with Washington 13-4 ATS coming off an upset loss as a home favorite since 1992 and head coach Chris Petersen’s 23-9 ATS mark on the road versus good passing teams (58%+ completions). Those expecting USC to win big can point to the fact that underdogs of 10.5 to 21 points in a game involving two excellent passing teams (8.3+ YPA) after allowing 8+ YPA in the previous game are a miserable 6-30 ATS since 1992. Also, Steve Sarkisian is 9-1 ATS at home versus good rushing defenses (120 or less rushing YPG) in his head coaching career. Sarkisian certainly knows his Thursday opponent having coached at Washington for five years (2009-13) before taking his current gig with USC. But he will have a handful of injury concerns with WR Darreus Rogers (hamstring) doubtful and DTs Antwaun Woods (pectoral) and Claude Pelon (ankle) both questionable for the Trojans. The Huskies have only one significant injury with FS Budda Baker (ankle) listed as questionable.
Washington’s offense has picked up some steam in the past three games with 34.7 PPG and 415 total YPG. Freshman QB Jake Browning has not played well against a top-notch opponent though, gaining only 302 passing yards, 0 TD and 3 INT in two games versus Power 5 schools (Boise State and Cal), as opposed to a hefty 694 yards, 5 TD and 1 INT versus smaller schools (Sacramento State and Utah State). His top receiver this season has been junior fullback Dwayne Washington (17 rec, 223 yds, 2 TD), who racked up an impressive 109 yards on 10 catches and a touchdown in the loss to Cal. Browning’s top wideout is WR Jaydon Mickens (13 rec, 121 yds), who is averaging only 9.3 yards per catch and has not scored a touchdown yet. The Huskies have not done a great job running the football with a mere 107 YPG on 3.6 YPC. This includes just 181 yards on 62 carries (2.9 YPC) over the past two games. Freshman FB Myles Gaskin leads the team with 209 yards on 39 carries (5.4 YPC), but most of those yards (146) came against Sacramento State. In the other three games, he has only 63 yards on 25 carries (2.5 YPC). But the biggest deficiency of this offense is turnovers, as the team already has 10 giveaways, including eight in the past two games. Defensively, Washington has played great football in allowing only 15.7 PPG and 321 total YPG (4.3 yards per play). This includes the last game against the explosive Cal offense when the unit surrendered 481 yards and 30 points. The run-stop unit has been particularly stout this year in holding opponents to 104 YPG on a mere 2.6 YPC. The Huskies have also forced seven turnovers, including two takeaways in three of the four contests. But taking the ball away from their Thursday opponent won’t be easy considering the Trojans have committed only two turnovers all season.
USC’s offense has been rolling this season with 46.7 PPG on 532 total YPG. Senior QB Cody Kessler has thrown at least three touchdowns in all four games, totaling 15 TD and only 1 INT to go along with his 1,297 passing yards, 10.6 YPA and 73% completion rate. Sophomore WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has been incredible this year with 537 receiving yards (19.9 avg) and 6 TD. He has scored touchdowns in all four games and has gained at least 89 yards in all four contests. Although Smith-Schuster is dealing with a personal issue, his status is probable for Thursday. The Trojans have slipped a bit rushing the football though with only 231 yards on 3.9 YPC in the past two games. Despite blowing out Arizona State in the most recent contest, USC managed only 76 yards on 32 totes (2.4 YPC). Freshman RB Ronald Jones II is the team’s leading ball carrier (242 rush yards, 8.1 YPC) and ran well against the Sun Devils with 54 yards on 10 totes. However the No. 2 option, senior RB Tre Madden (213 rush yards, 5.8 YPC), was held to an anemic seven yards on nine carries. The USC defense allowed 41 points in a loss to Stanford, but only 29 points combined in the three wins. That’s a pretty impressive feat considering the team’s hefty 35:26 average time of possession. The Trojans have given up chunks of yardage though with 410 total YPG broken down as 164 rushing YPG (4.0 YPC) and 246 passing YPG (6.6 YPA). While USC has forced eight turnovers, four of those came last game at Arizona State and the other four came in the season opener versus Arkansas State. With Washington’s lack of ball security this year, look for the Trojans defense to really go after the football on Thursday night.