After an impressive response to a painful conference loss, the No. 17 USC Trojans (3-1, 1-1) hope to maintain their momentum when they host the Washington Huskies (2-2, 0-1) Thursday night at the Coliseum.
The disappointing 41-31 home loss to Stanford on Sept. 19 still seems to hover over the Trojans. USC's defense was dominated by the imposing Stanford offensive line, as the Cardinal rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns. The early defeat sent the Trojans tumbling 13 spots in the national rankings, but they recovered by pounding Arizona State, 42-14, behind quarterback Cody Kessler’s five touchdown passes and 375 yards on the road last week.
The senior has been outstanding throughout the entire season. Kessler has completed 73 percent of his passes and only has one interception all season. His favorite target has been speedy receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has caught 27 passes for 537 yards and six touchdowns. The Trojans also boast one of the most explosive players in the nation: Adoree Jackson. The sophomore is expected to play more offense with Kevon Seymour returning to the secondary.
The Trojans offense will face a Washington defense that has conceded just 4.56 yards per play this season. Despite Sidney Jones fumble recovery and 70-yard touchdown run, the defense still surrendered 481 yards against Cal. Containing Smith-Schuster and USC's ground game will likely be a top priority.
But the Huskies' offense will also need to bounce back after they fell to Pac-12 upstarts Cal, 32-24 -- a result largely decided by quarterback Jake Browning’s two interceptions and the Huskies five total turnovers. Washington head coach Chris Peterson said on Monday that he is trying to get Browning more reps in practice. The freshman has been inconsistent and a big game against a top program like USC could do wonders for his confidence.
Peterson may turn to the ground game to hold off USC. Myles Gaskin had a big game against Sacramento State but has also had some solid runs in three separate games. In his first three games, Dwayne Washington rushed for a total of just 29 yards, but the junior busted out for 109 yards against California.
Meanwhile, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian gets his first chance to coach against his former employer. After serving as an offensive coordinator at USC in 2007 and 2008, Sarkisian took over at Washington from 2009-2013. Though respected as a quarterback guru, Sarkisian managed just a 34-29 record. It was a welcomed turnaround from Tyrone Willingham's 0-12 record in 2008, but the expectations were high for Sarkisian to return the Huskies to prominence. Sarkisian told reporters that he enjoyed his time in Seattle.
"I think the memories kick up a little bit," said Sarkisian. "You start looking at the tape, and there's a bunch of players that you recruited. They're playing hard, and I'm happy for them. But I've got great memories from the University of Washington. We really felt like we took a program that was at the bottom of our conference and built them the right way, got them to four consecutive bowl games and feel good about it."
This is the first meeting between USC and Washington since Oct. 13, 2012. The Trojans prevailed in Seattle, 24-14.
Betting Odds: USC -17
Over/Under: 57.5 points
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN