Often times, I make my pick for the Saturday paper and then change my mind a few hours before game time. This isn't one of those times. Right now, I think USC is just a little better than Washington, particularly at the line of scrimmage.
Think about this: USC has only allowed five sacks this season (second best in the Pac-12), while Washington has only come up with nine sacks the whole season (ninth in the Pac-12). Some of those sacks came in mop up time against Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
So what does that mean?
I don't see the Huskies generating the requisite pass rush to take Matt Barkley out of his comfort level. And if Barkley has time in the pocket, he will absolutely carve up the Huskies.
Defensively, Washington just doesn't have the speed in the secondary or the power up front to really force USC out of anything it wants to do.
If I have any reservation about my pick, it may be selling the Husky offense a little short. Washington should score points. They could get realistically score more than 24 points, particularly if Chris Polk gets going early. It will be interesting to watch middle linebacker Lamar Dawson, who will be starting over Chris Galippo.
In the end, I still think USC wins, and wins comfortably.
WASHINGTON (6-3, 4-2 PAC-12) AT USC (7-2, 4-2)
12:30 p.m., The Coliseum, Los Angeles
TV: FX. Radio: 950-AM, 850-AM, 102.9 FM
The series: The Trojans lead, 49-28-4, but the Huskies have won the last two – including last year’s 32-31 victory in Los Angeles on Erik Folk’s last-second field goal. Two years ago, Folk kicked a late field goal as UW stunned then-third-ranked USC, 16-13.
What to watch: Like most of this season, it comes down to whether the Huskies’ defense will give the offense a chance to win. Regardless of what has been said about UW’s defense, the above-average showing against Oregon had as much to do with the Ducks’ mistakes as plays made by the Huskies. But according to UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt, preparing for USC should be easier. The Trojans play a more traditional style of offense under coach Lane Kiffin, not relying on misdirection and fast tempo to beat teams. USC usually wins because of superior talent. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley has been outstanding, leading the conference with 28 touchdown passes. He has two of the best receivers in the Pac-12 in sophomore Robert Woods and freshman Marqise Lee. Can Washington’s secondary, which was carved up by Eastern Washington, Hawaii and to a lesser extent California, slow the Trojans’ attack? Getting a pass rush on Barkley would help, but the Huskies have just 14 total sacks this season – tied for No. 81 in the country. Too many blitzes, and Barkley will exploit the one-on-one coverage. Offensively, Washington was “poor” against Oregon, according to coach Steve Sarkisian. Keith Price threw two bad interceptions, and the offensive line couldn’t protect him or give Chris Polk any room to run. Sarkisian and Price vowed that the offense would play better. But how much? USC’s defense is young at several positions but extremely talented. The Trojans’ defensive front seven has proven to be disruptive on pass plays and fairly stout against the run.
What’s at stake: For the Trojans, it’s all about playing for pride. They are still on NCAA probation and ineligible for postseason play. Washington is playing for an elevated bowl berth. The chance to go to San Diego and the Holiday Bowl instead of El Paso, Texas, and the Sun Bowl should be plenty of motivation.
The pick: USC 38, Washington 24