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O/NSO: Washington edition

The Obvious from Seattle: Fresh off last weekend’s upset of then No. 10 Utah, the No. 21 USC Trojans (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) travel to Seattle to play the No. 17 Washington Huskies on Saturday afternoon in Husky Stadium (12:30 p.m. PDT) in a critical Pac-12 contest that will either enhance and keep secure the Trojans atop the Pac-12 South Division or return the Men of Troy to a crowded field of divisional contenders. 

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans lead their series with Washington, 51-29-4 (not including the 2005 victory that was later vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 52-29-4). Troy has won nine of the previous 12 games and 10 of the previous 14 (not including one victory later vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 10 of 13, 11 of 15). Twenty-two of the past 37 meetings have been decided by 12 points or less. Of the 85 games overall, 35 have been decided by a TD or less. In their last 52 meetings since 1960, the Trojan-Husky winner has advanced to the Rose Bowl 29 times (21 by USC).

The Obvious: Washington opened up a 10-point favorite to defeat the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: In games in Seattle, the Trojans lead the series, 20-17-4. In its last six trips to Seattle, Troy has lost just once. Because of Pac-12 scheduling, the Trojans haven’t played the Huskies since the 2016 season. This will also be the first game that the Men of Troy have played on artifical turf this season. The Trojans lost just once in Seattle in its last six visits. Historically, USC-UW games have been close affairs, and recently, more often than not, the winner of the game has advanced to the Rose Bowl. FYI, the last team to shut out the Trojans was the Huskies (22 years ago).

The Trojans have had recent success when they have traveled to UW to play the Huskies in Husky Stadium (photo above).

The Obvious: Saturday’s game will be televised on FOX (12:30 p.m. PDT/ 3:30 p.m. EDT).

The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters will be Joe Davis (play-by-play), Brock Huard (analyst) and Bruce Feldman (sidelines).

National Touchdown Radio will feature Taylor Zarzour (play-by-play) and Gino Toretta (analyst). You can also watch the game on FOXSportsGo.com and the FOXSportsGo app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast from Husky Stadium will begin airing live on KABC 790 AM (12:30 p.m. PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline). John Jackson will on occasion provide selective perspective.  

With temperature expected to be in the mid-50s, you can bet that Trojans’ play-by-play radio broadcaster Pete Arbogast (photo above) won’t be wearing short sleeves and an Hawaiian shirt when he calls the USC/UW game high atop Husky Stadium.

The Trojans’ broadcast from Seattle on KABC AM 790 will begin with a two-hour pregame show beginning at 10:30 a.m. (PDT), and joining the game broadcast crew will be Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.

The Not So Obvious: The local Washington broadcast can be heard on UW flagship station KOMO AM-1000 and FM 97.7 with Tony Castricone (play-by-play), Damon Huard (analyst) and Elise Woodward (sidelines).

Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channels 126/210 or online channel 968) and on the Tunein Radio app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Seattle weather forecast calls for morning showers with a high of 59 degrees, low of 46 degrees, 56 percent humidity, and 40 percent precipitation. Temperature for kickoff is expected to be partly cloudy and 55 degrees.

The Seattle weather might be unpredictable, but tailgating (photo above) at Husky Stadium will be predictable and in full swing on Saturday, rain or shine.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can rush for 13 yards like they did in their victory over Utah and still beat Washington in Seattle. We’ll find out whether the traditionally effective Washington Huskies’ defense of head coach Chris Petersen against an Air Raid offense will do damage like it does to Washington State. And we’ll find out whether the cool weather in the Great Northwest and it’s barking dog fans will have an impact on the Trojans’ second road game of the season.

Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans offensive line can handle a very stout UW defensive line, which pretty much shut down BYU in the Huskies 45-19 domination of the Cougars last Saturday in Provo. The Trojans have started three different quarterbacks in their three victories thus far, and we’ll see whether junior Matt Fink, who will be getting his first USC start, can continue to lead and inspire the offense since true freshman Kedon Slovis is out with concussion protocol. Backing up Fink will be walk-on Brandon Perdue, a converted quarterback-to-safety in the spring. It figures that UW will use its traditional three-man line and eight back to defend against the Air Raid, which they have done successfully time after time against Washington State. We’ll see whether the Trojans will have an answer for that. One answer logically is running the ball more; however, the Trojans had such meager rushing yards last Friday against a tough Utah front, we’ll have to see whether the Men of Troy can at least have a pedestrian running game. We’ll see whether Trojans’ redshirt freshman back Markese Stepp can make a difference between the tackles… if he is given the opportunity.

Trojans’ offensive left tackle Austin Jackson (photo above) will lead his O-line teammates against a stout UW defensive front.

Despite having perhaps as good a receiving unit as there is in the country, we’ll see whether the likes of Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyler Vaughns can do damage to a Washington secondary that is not only talented but well coached. UW brings to the table a secondary that features senior CB Myles Bryant and freshman CB Kyler Gordon. And the Trojans’ offense will need to be aware of senior LB Kyler Manu, a good one. Although UW returned only two starters from 2018, the newcomers are talented, and they now have four games under belts. It will be a challenge for the Trojans offense, believe me. Last time the Trojans defeated the Huskies in Seattle (2016), the quarterback and tight end were a major factor, or have you already forgotten QB Sam Darnold and TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe? We’ll find out whether the Trojans finally decide to throw more than a token pass to their tight end.

Washington’s secondary figures to have its hands full trying to cover Trojans senior captain and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (photo above)

Lastly, we have the state of the Trojans’ offensive line. With Matt Fink starting at QB on Saturday, the O-line will have some breathing room since Fink has excellent mobility, as shown last weekend against Utah. Let’s face it, what we have probably seen from this offensive line after four games is what it is the rest of the way, which is average at best with a long suit of pass protection. It’s not really a question now of whether this Trojan line can run block, but more of a question of “Can they protect the quarterback?” Just don’t ask JT Daniels or Kedon Slovis to answer that question. It should be noted that the UW’s defense has led the Pac-12 in both scoring defense and total defense each of the last four years.

Can Trojans’ junior quarterback Matt Fink (photo above) continue his outstanding play against Washington?

Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense is not too taxed trying to defend a true “balanced” offense. In quarterback Jacob Eason and a committee of talented running backs, it makes the UW play-action game that much more lethal. Add to that a fleet of talented receivers that will be thrown to by a future NFL quarterback, and we’ll find out whether this Trojans defense – led by down tackles Marlon Tuipolotu and Jay Tufele can get penetration to at least get Eason off his mark let alone getting a sack or two. We’ll see whether senior captain and DE Christian Rector plays (ankle) and for how long? The Trojans rush defense does not appear much vastly improved from last season’s porous unit, and UW has plenty of firepower carrying the football in juniors Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew and redshirt freshman Richard Newton. We’ll see whether the Trojans’ D-line can also handle UW’s O-line, led by senior NFL prospects like OT Trey Adams (6-8, 306) and C Nick Harris (6-1, 302).

One of the reasons Washington’s offensive line is so formidable is star offensive tackle Trey Adams (photo above). The Trojans’ defensive line will be physically challenged on Saturday.

Whether the Trojans’ secondary will be able to recover from the loss of sophomore strong safety Talanoa Hufanga (concussion protocol) and CB Olaijah Griffin (back), only time will tell during the game. With Hufanga and Griffin out, the the Trojans’ secondary will face an even greater challenge, especially with the very capable UW passing game. The Huskies air game will heavily test the reconstituted Cardinal and Gold secondary with junior TE Hunter Bryant and senior WRs Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia.

With the loss of super sophomore strong safety Talanoa Hufanga (photo above – No. 15) because of concussion protocol, the depleted Trojans’ secondary will need to up their game.

Filling in for Hufanga and Griffin will be redshirt freshman Chase Williams at strong safety and true freshman Chris Steele at corner, respectively.

True freshman corner Chris Steele (photo above – No. 8) will start against Washington with Olaijah Griffin out due to a back issue.

On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll see whether Trojans placekicker Chase McGrath can win his battle with UW placekicker Peyton Henry, who enters the week as one of 25 FBS kickers who has made all of his field goal attempts this season, and one of only seven with seven or more attempts. The Trojans will see whether kickoff return specialist Velus Jones and punter returner Tyler Vaughns can make a dent in the UW special teams. In Chris Petersen’s five-plus season as the UW head coach, his special teams haven’t allowed a single return for a score. Also, in those five-plus seasons under Petersen, the Huskies have scored touchdowns on a total of 14 kickoff (4) and punt (10) returns. In terms of punting we’ll see whether Trojans Australian punter Ben Griffiths (Melborne/ 39.8 avg.) and out punt yet another Australian kicker, UW’s senior Joel Whitford (Neerim South/ 44.6 avg.).

The Obvious: Clay Helton is the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach, and his current record at USC is 35-18.

The Not So Obvious: On the challenges of playing Washington in Husky Stadium, Helton says, “One, you have to welcome the conditions because it (Seattle) is a great sports city just like we are. They have great fans, it’s going to be a loud environment; it’s going to be a crazy environment for some young people who are making their first trip there. It’s going to be a great college football environment. We have to handle that first.

“Second, I look at their offense and the weapons that they have. I thought they did a tremendous job versus BYU. The (Washington) quarterback (Jacob Eason) is an NFL quarterback; there is no doubt about it. His mechanics, his accuracy, his arm strength reminds me a lot of Josh Rosen. He really had a comfortable pocket last week (against BYU) and really got after their secondary pretty good. For us, the key is to try to get to him and get him off his spot. Whether that’s a four-man rush, which has really done a good job for us getting to the quarterback or instilling a five or six- man rush. When they get to those passing downs, we have to make him uncomfortable. When he’s in rhythm, he’s extremely decisive and extremely accurate.

Trojans’ head football coach Clay Helton (photo above) has a great deal of respect for Washington’s offense and defense, especially after watching the Huskies thrash BYU, 45-19, in Provo, Utah, last Saturday.

“Defensively, they were very advantageous in that game against BYU. I thought they did a great job of creating turnovers and creating havoc. They are a team that can pressure you with an odd front or a four-man front and be able to play a variety of coverages. I’ve always thought they’ve done a tremendous job of disguising their coverages. A lot of the reads for the (USC) quarterback are going to be post-snap. Don’t believe what you see because it is going to rotate on the snap. It’s going to be another big boy game.”   

The Obvious: Chris Petersen, 56, is in his 6th season as Washington’s head coach and his current record at UW is 50-22.

The Not So Obvious: Petersen entered the 2019 season with the highest winning percentage among active NCAA-FBS coaches with five or more years of experience. Through four games this year, Petersen has a career record of 142-34.

Regarding the similarities between the Trojans’ and Washington State’s offense, Petersen said, “It’s definitely different than Washington State, but you have some of the core concepts that are the same. USC certainly runs the ball more than Washington State, but they both like to throw it a lot.” Petersen added, “They (USC) have thrown the heck out of the ball. Big-time receivers. Those guys have done a nice job, both those quarterbacks (Fink and Slovis), of giving their receivers a chance to make plays. If you do that, those guys can make plays. This is a really good receiving core, as well.”

Washington head coach Chris Petersen (photo above) has had success in defending Air Raid offenses.

The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense averages 33.25 points per game while the Trojans defense allows 24.0 points per game.

The Not So Obvious: Washington’s offense averages 40.75 points per game while the Huskies’ defense allows 18.25 points per outing.

The Obvious: Junior Matt Fink figures to be the starting quarterback for the Trojans on Saturday afternoon.

The Not So Obvious: You know the current story of Matt Fink coming out of the NCAA Transfer Portal and assuming the USC starting QB job after the JT Daniels (knee) and Kedon Slovis got hurt. While a senior at Glendora High, Fink, a USC communication major, made the 2015 Prep Star All-America team, Tacoma News Tribune Western 100, Cal-Hi Sports All-State Medium Schools first team, All-CIF Central Division, San Gabriel Valley Tribune All-Area first team, and All-Palomares League Player of the Year.  

Trojans’ starting quarterback Matt Fink (photo above) is a graduate of Glendora (Calif.) High.

The Obvious: The starting quarterback for Washington is junior Jacob Eason, a transfer from the University of Georgia.

The Not So Obvious: Although a Georgia Bulldogs transfer, Eason is originally from Lake Stevens, Washington. A huge quarterback (6-6, 227), he’s an excellent pro prospect even though at Georgia he was beaten out by eventual star Jake Fromm. As a legend at Lake Stevens High, Eason was the 2015 Gatorade National Prep Player of the Year, as well as the state player of the year.

Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton says that UW quarterback Jacob Eason (photo above – No. 10) is definitely a top NFL prospect.

The Obvious: Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton likes to say that his 2019 Trojans are a very young team.

The Not So Obvious: Washington’s roster is also on the young side. Of the 106 current players, more than half – 55 – are freshmen or redshirt freshmen, due in large part to the fact that every freshman on last year’s team preserved their redshirt season. Washington’s roster includes 18 seniors, 20 juniors, 13 sophomores, 25 redshirt freshmen and 30 true freshmen.

Clay Helton says he has a young and talented team, and one of those young talents is starting true freshman defensive end Drake Jackson (photo above).

The Obvious: It’s rare that a USC team gets shut out of a game.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have scored in their past 263 games, a school record (not including 15 scoring games later vacated due to NCAA penalty; revised record streak: 277 games). The Trojans last shutout loss was in 1997 at Washington, 27-0. In fact, three of the last four times the Cardinal and Gold have been shut out were games at Washington: 1983 (24-0, snapping USC’s school record), 1990 (31-0) and that 1997 contest (the other shutout in that span came at Arizona State in 1985, 24-0).

The Obvious: The Trojans have no players from the state of Washington.

The Not So Obvious:  Washington has 38 Californians on its roster.

One of those many Californians on the Washington roster is senior all-star center Nick Harris (photo Above), a prep graduate of San Juan Capistrano JSerra HS.

The Obvious: With the verbal defection of Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young from USC to Alabama, it has broght scrutiny to the Trojans’ recruiting Class of 2020.

Although the Trojans lost Class of 2020 quarterback Bryce Young (photo above) to Alabama, UW head coach Chris Petersen says the Men of Troy will always get outstanding players and have a lot of evidence to prove it.

The Not So Obvious: Washington head coach Chris Petersen has his own take on USC’s recruiting. Petersen said, “They’re always going to get good players. They just are, and they do, and they’ve got a bunch of good players right now. That’s just what it is. They’ve got that tradition. Lot of history. They have a good program, they really do. Just a lot of expectations come with that situation that everybody is so hyper-sensitive with. Sometimes they look past what is going on and I think this team we’re going to play is really improving and they’ve got a lot of skill and this will be our biggest challenge so far.”

The Obvious: Trojans’ inside linebacker Maninoa Tufono is a true freshman linebacker from Halawa, Hawaii.

The Not So Obvious: Tufono’s father, Albert Tufono, played inside linebacker at Washington (1983-84, 1987).

The Obvious: And finally, USC plays on United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious: Washington plays at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Now that’s what the O/NSO calls “Air Wars.”

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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