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Washington pass rush and 3rd down efficiency concern USC coach Clay Helton

The Trojans have a big road test against the Huskies on Saturday

California v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

USC head coach Clay Helton spoke to the media on Wednesday after practice and he expressed two areas of concern for the Trojans as they prepare to take on the Washington Huskies Saturday. The first is the pass rush the Washington defense can get from just four down linemen. The second is Washington’s elite efficiency on third down.

Washington Pass Rush:

The USC offensive line must force more defenders into the box, something not many teams have been able to do this year. The good news is that USC can get the running game going with an explosive Ronald Jones II or a returning Justin Davis. The Trojans can also use Sam Darnold’s legs to open up the Husky defense as well.

We wrote about the Washington line pressure here:

“One of the most impressive things about the Washington defense is that they can get pressure on a quarterback and keep containment with just 3 or 4 down linemen. This gives the Huskies the luxury of being able to cause havoc in the backfield, pressure the quarterback, and still drop 7 or 8 players back into pass coverage. This does not leave opposing quarterbacks much time to throw, and rather narrow throwing lanes in which to throw.

If this all sounds familiar it should, this scenario played out for USC the first game of the season against Alabama. The Tide was getting plenty of pressure with just 3 or 4 down linemen and were able to drop back 7 or 8 guys into pass coverage there was just nothing for a pocket passer like Max Browne to do. There are a few key differences this time though aside from the fact that the Alabama defense was probably faster and the USC offense was less prepared. First Sam Darnold is far more mobile and it will be difficult to keep him contained, second the Huskies sack leader Joe Mathis is out for the season”

Third Down Efficiency on both sides of the ball:

The second area of concern is that the Huskies are the most efficient third down team in the league. Washington only runs about 65 plays per game yet manages to score on average about 48 points per game (also another reason why USC has to clean up turnovers and penalties). One major reason why Washington can score so many points on a relatively small number of plays is their third down efficiency on offense. The Huskies are converting on almost half of all 3rd down attempts this season. When you factor in their converted 4th down tries it is exactly one half. This conversion rate does not leave a ton of wasted plays and drives that end in punts. When you combine this kind of offensive efficiency with the explosive play making ability that so many Washington players have on offense it is very easy for a team to fall behind on the Huskies and never have the opportunity to get back into the game.

The Washington defense might be even better on third down. 135 times opposing teams have attempted to convert on third down against Washington and opposing offenses were only successful on 40 of those attempts. Opposing offenses were successful converting on third down against Washington fewer than 1 out of every 3 attempts, that is good for 8th best in the nation. The Trojans have to stay on schedule when they are offense. Looking at these numbers it becomes pretty clear that if you get into a third and long situation against Washington you probably are not going to convert.

Injury Report:

DL Stevie Tu’ikolovatu did not practice Wednesday but Helton said he would not be surprised if Stevie played on Saturday. Iman Marshall was limited in practice on Wednesday and is still probable for Saturday. Wide receiver Deontay Burnett missed practice again with a knee injury but remains probable for Saturday. Running backs Justin Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware both got reps on Wednesday,

You can watch the full presser here:

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