Seattle, WA (Sports Network) - The Washington Huskies will face a ranked team for the fourth time this season on Saturday when they take on No. 11 USC in a Pac-12 Conference affair at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
USC began the season as the nation's No. 1 team, but even with convincing wins over Hawaii (49-10) and Syracuse (42-29), it was overtaken by Alabama for the top spot. The Trojans' ranking plummeted following a 21-14 loss at Stanford, but they have gotten back on track with two straight wins over California (27-9) and Utah (38-28).
Washington got off to a fast 3-1 start, highlighted by an impressive win over nationally-ranked Stanford on Sept. 27. That win bumped the Huskies up to No. 23 in the nation, although they promptly dropped out of the rankings following last week's 52-21 loss to Oregon.
"Heck, when you drop punts, you throw a pick-six, you blow coverages against good teams, you get beat," Washington head coach and former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian said following the Oregon game. "You have to do everything right, not some stuff right and not other things."
USC has a huge advantage in the all-time series with Washington, 49-28-4. The rivalry has been closer over the past few decades however, as the teams have played to a 9-9-1 tie in the last 19 games.
The Trojans offense has played well this season, tallying 34 ppg on more than 420 ypg, but those numbers are slightly underwhelming considering the massive preseason hype surrounding the unit. It has also struggled on third down (20- of-61).
Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley is coming off one of his best games of the season last Thursday against Utah, as he completed 23-of-30 passes for 303 yards and three scores. Despite his solid year-to-date totals (.642 completion percentage, 1,308 yards, 15 TDs, five INTs), he is on pace to fall short of each of his career-best numbers which he logged last year as a junior (.691, 3,528 yards, 39 TDs, seven INTs).
Marqise Lee has emerged as Barkley's favorite target this season, as he leads the conference in receptions (52), yards (649), and touchdowns (seven). He is coming off a 12-catch, 192-yard performance against Utah, his third career game with 190 yards or more. Robert Woods has been no slouch opposite Lee, reeling in 31 balls for 272 yards and five scores.
After transferring from Penn State in the offseason, Silas Redd has taken over as the Trojans' feature back with great success, carrying the ball 75 times for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Curtis McNeal (33 carries, 225 yards) also sports a solid yards-per-carry average.
Even though the USC defense gave up four touchdowns to a two-win Utah team a week ago, on the season the unit has surrendered less than 20 ppg. It has been especially solid in the run game, holding opponents to 112.6 ypg. However, head coach Lane Kiffin is quick to temper any enthusiasm.
"We have not played the quality of quarterbacks that we had played in the previous two years to this point," Kiffin said. "Before we make this statement that, 'Boy, we've improved so much on defense,' we have to make sure we look at the whole thing together."
A ball-hawking secondary has helped USC win the turnover battle with nine interceptions, paced by three picks from Dion Bailey and a pair from Jawan Starling.
Morgan Breslin is a beast along the line of scrimmage, leading the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Leonard Williams (six TFL, four sacks) and George Uko (five TFL, three sacks) are also off to fast starts.
Washington's offense hasn't nearly been as impressive as the Trojans as it scores less than 23 ppg while putting up just 321.2 ypg.
With 33 touchdown passes a year ago, Keith Price was one of the most feared quarterbacks in the nation, but this season he has under-performed, completing less than 60 percent of his passes for 882 yards with just five touchdowns paired with four interceptions.
Bishop Sankey has helped pick up the slack for Price, rushing for 433 yards and six touchdowns. He has tallied 100 yards rushing in three straight games, with 25 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon.
Kasen Williams (31 receptions, 340 yards, three TDs) and Austin Seferian- Jenkins (24 receptions, 254 yards, TD) have been reliable targets for Price, but no other receiving has caught more than seven passes.
The Huskies defense (26.2 ppg, 352 ypg) has performed very well in the team's three wins in allowing less than 13 points per game, but they have given up 41 and 52 points in a pair of losses.
Thomas Tutogi has 33 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Andrew Hudson is the only player with double-digit sacks with two.