University of Washington

No. 21 USC Trojans vs. No. 17 UW Huskies: What to watch for

NO. 21 USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) vs. NO. 17 WASHINGTON (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12)

When: 12:30 p.m. PT, Saturday

Where: Husky Stadium

TV: Fox

Radio: KOMO-AM 1000/FM-97.7

Outlook: Last week, Washington beat BYU 45-19 on the road, and USC topped preseason Pac-12 favorite Utah, 30-23. The Trojans are undefeated in conference play with victories over Stanford and Utah. UW dropped its first conference game of the season to Cal.

Matt Fink, who started the season as the No. 3 quarterback, will start for the Trojans. Fink led USC to the win over the Utes after Kedon Slovis was injured on the second play from scrimmage and entered concussion protocol. Slovis, the backup quarterback, took over for JT Daniels after Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in USC’s opener.

If Fink has to leave the game for any reason, the Trojans will be forced to turn to Brandon Perdue, a walk-on who came to USC as a quarterback, converted to safety and then returned to quarterback last month. Fink completed 21-of-30 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns against Utah. His main targets are a trio of wide receivers led by Michael Pittman Jr., but more on that later.

“They’re a pass-first offense that does a great job with the run game,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said Thursday. “It’s the biggest challenge that (the secondary has) had and it’s the biggest challenge that a lot of our guys have had. It’s the biggest challenge our d-line has had. We can just go across the board.”

USC averages 33.3 points and 443 yards of total offense per game. It’s allowing 24.0 points and 421.0 yards of total offense. Petersen was quick to praise the Trojans’ defensive line. Freshman Drake Jackson has 3.0 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble this season.

“This is the best d-line, without question, that we’ve seen,” Petersen said. “Cal had some guys to be sure, but talent-wise, those guys are probably the strength of their defense, and it’s interesting that a true freshman is one of the guys that flashes and really shows up.”

The Huskies are coming off their best offensive performance of the season. They finished with 477 yards of total offense against BYU as quarterback Jacob Eason completed 24-of-28 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Sean McGrew rushed for 110 yards on 18 carries while Aaron Fuller caught eight passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. He also returned a punt for a touchdown.

Starting running back Salvon McGrew missed the win over the Cougars with a leg injury. Petersen said he’s “week to week.”

UW players to watch: The offensive line. The line has been a strength for the Huskies all season, but this will be its biggest test yet. Pro Football Focus recently tweeted the pass block grades for all five starters. Right tackle Jared Hilbers had the top grade (86.6) with zero allowed pressures. None of the linemen had a grade lower than 76.

USC players to watch: The wide receivers, mainly Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Pittman Jr. has 31 receptions for 437 yards and three touchdowns while Vaughns has 27 catches for 370 yards and two touchdowns. St. Brown has 19 receptions for 207 yards and three touchdowns. All three are averaging more than 10 yards per catch.

Keep an eye on: UW’s secondary. As Petersen mentioned, this will be a tough challenge for the Huskies’ young defensive backs. How they respond will go a long way in determining the outcome.

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Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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