University of Washington

Huskies coach Chris Petersen says No. 17 USC Trojans are ‘completely underrated’

USC’s Cody Kessler (6) throws a touchdown pass during the first half against Arizona State on Sept. 26. Kessler and the Trojans are second in the nation with a 8.1 yard per play average.
USC’s Cody Kessler (6) throws a touchdown pass during the first half against Arizona State on Sept. 26. Kessler and the Trojans are second in the nation with a 8.1 yard per play average. The Associated Press

Like many college football coaches, the Huskies’ Chris Petersen finds little consequence in top-25 rankings this early in the season.

Such polls seemingly exist only for fans to complain about and for coaches to laugh at, so here’s Petersen, disagreeing with the idea of the USC Trojans as the 17th-best team in the country.

“I think this is definitely one of the elite teams in our conference, without question,” he said. “I always chuckle at the rankings and the ratings this early. I know this team is completely underrated in terms of rankings. That’s why that never means anything to me.

“They have tremendous talent, they do a great job coaching them, and those kids show up. They’ve built some depth through the young guys that they’re playing. This is a really good team.”

He isn’t wrong there. The Trojans (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) are particularly dangerous offensively, where they rank second nationally in yards per play at 8.1. They have a senior quarterback (Cody Kessler), a veteran offensive line, talented receivers (led by sophomore All-American candidate JuJu Smith-Schuster) and a three-pronged attack at tailback.

Their defense hasn’t been quite as stellar. Stanford totaled 474 yards against the Trojans in a 41-31 win in Los Angeles on Sept. 19, a game Petersen and his staff have no doubt studied some this week in preparation for Thursday’s 6 p.m. game vs. the Trojans in Los Angeles.

“One thing is, they kind of weathered the storm,” Petersen said of Stanford. “They hung in there with them. They got behind, but then they scored and kind of answered and it just didn’t get away from them.”

Stanford, Petersen said, “is really good at their style” of football — a physical, run-first brand. And the Huskies would like to be able to rely on their running game, too, at least more than they did two Saturdays ago against California.

In that game, a 30-24 loss, UW tailback Dwayne Washington netted 109 yards rushing … on only 10 carries. Given the way the Huskies otherwise struggled to move the ball in that game — they finished with 259 total yards — it’s worth wondering if they should have stayed with a relatively successful rushing attack, though Petersen said the scoreboard dictated that the Huskies throw the ball more to try to catch up.

But that might be part of the reason offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, after evaluating the Huskies’ play calling through four games, concluded that they could have been “more stubborn” about their intent to run the ball despite ranking 112th nationally with an average of just 3.6 yards per carry.

“I think we’d like to stay balanced if we can,” Petersen said. “But I think a lot of it depends on the opponent we’re playing and can we legitimately run the ball? Does that give us our best chance to move the ball, or can we pass protect them? I don’t think it’s that easy to say this is what we’re going to do, period. I think we’ve got to give our kids a chance where we think gives them the most chance to be successful.”

Oregon kickoff time

Washington’s home game against Oregon Oct. 17 is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff and will air on either ESPN or ESPN2. The specific network will be announced.

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