Today, is gameday, and that, by all means, is a wonderful thing. At 5:00 p.m. PST, our beloved Trojans will emerge from the Coliseum southwest stadium tunnel, rush onto the field, and tee off against a Washington team that has become infamous in Southern California ever since upending the Trojans 16-13 a year ago in Seattle. In turn, most of the talk in preparation for today's Pac-10 home opener has centered around three things: the Sarkisian-Kiffin coaching "rivalry," the derailed Jake Locker Heisman campaign, and of course, revenge from the 2009 matchup. But in regards to the real significance of this evening's showdown, none of that really matters.
Are Kiffin and Sarkisian friends? Yes. Are they cordial? Of course. But color me disinterested in the personal friendship between two 30-somethings.
Same goes for that of Jake Locker and the whole concept of revenge.
Has Locker underachieved thus far in 2009? Obviously. But he's going to rebound. He's not far and away the most dominant athlete in college football, but he isn't Nebraska-bad either. And as for last year's contest, let's just say Pete Carroll and Aaron Corp are no longer with the program. We've moved on.
So what does matter about a conference game at home against Washington?
No, not the Trojans defensive front that surrendered nearly 600 yards of total offense against Hawaii, and gave up late touchdowns in games against Virginia and Minnesota.
Time to focus, on a Washington defense that has seemingly taken five steps back under the "watchful" eye of former USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt. In fact, the Huskies have been so putrid that, 'SC has almost looked like the west coast blackshirts. Per Rivals.com:
After overseeing a 2009 Husky defense that allowed 12 fewer points per game and 62 fewer total yards per game, defensive coordinator Nick Holt, another USC staff veteran, had six returning starters to begin 2010 and hopes were high for another big step. However, opponents are averaging 425 total yards and 33 points against UW during the Huskies' first three games. Teams have proven capable of both running the football and passing it evenly well, and - outside of stud outside linebacker Mason Foster - the Huskies have simply struggled to stop anyone consistently.
And the front seven has been particularly lackluster, especially against the run. In their last contest against Nebraska on Sept. 18, the Huskies allowed 383 yards on the ground, while the Huskers found the endzone six times. An irked John Berkowitz of SB Nation's UW Dawg Pund noted the following in the days after:
Defensive line: I thought these guys would do better against the run game but you could tell that by midway through the second quarter they were gassed. Nebraska was way too physical for these guys and they wore down quickly. The pad level was way too high and are guys were pushed back most of the day. Haouli Jamora had eight tackles with one for loss.
He even went as far to call it the worst performance of the Sarkisian era:
Not much you can really say after Saturday's debacle at Montlake. This was by far the worst performance of the Sark era and it reminded us all too well of the thrashings that took place during the reigns of Gilby and Ty.
It may reek of cliche, but games are won by controlling the line of scrimmage, and if the 2010 season is any indication, Washington has certainly had its fair share of troubles doing that. It's not as if Sarkisian and Holt are being outcoached or are at some schematical disadvantage. It's just that UW has looked somewhat soft thus far.
When punched in the jaw, they don't punch back.
Instead, of investing in resilience, they've folded up like an over-sized lawn chair. But that won't cut it on the road against USC tonight. No, this isn't the traditional Trojan offense capable of effortlessly dropping 50 points on any given night. However, 'SC is still more than capable of putting points on the scoreboard. Just watch the game film from the last two weeks. Talented players are still on the roster. They didn't all leave.
So, yes. The team that went 0-12 less than two years ago, will need to show up. USC may be sanctioned, and depth may be at a premium for Kiffin's bunch, but Washington isn't the northwest power of the Don James era either.
The Huskies, like the Trojans, are still a work-in-progress, and as with most games, they won't be afforded the opportunity to simply show up and coast.
It's going to be a good one.