1. The Huskies are still pretty young and most of the national media seem to have their reservations about Washington as a playoff team what is the general feeling among the fans about a possible playoff appearance?
Most Husky fans thought the notion of a playoff appearance was rather silly before the season when a few prognosticators went so far as to put UW in the College Football Playoff. I wrote it off as members of the media trying to be different and attempt to nail a dark-horse pick and look a little like a genius. After routing Stanford, fans begin to believe it was something that was within the reach of this team.
The Rose Bowl was always the goal for the Huskies as far as most fans were concerned, but now the playoff is a possibility. I’m a bit nervous about how UW would fare against a team like Alabama, however.
2. Washington is without their sack leader, how has this shifted the Washington defensive strategy?
Losing pass rushing end Joe Mathis for the rest of the season was a bit of a blow as he was playing as well as any player on the defense. The Huskies blitz on less than 10-percent of passing downs which was the lowest percentage of any Power Five team, yet they were among the sack leaders when Mathis was healthy. The pass rush has fallen off considerably in the last three games without Mathis, and we saw the Huskies blitz more than we have seen all season against Cal a week ago.
3. The Huskies seem to be wrecking everyone in their path particularly at home yet Vegas has them as 8 point favorites, does that seem right to you?
Well, they have beaten the crap out of most of the bad-to-average teams on their schedule this season, as well as in the second half of the 2015 campaign. USC is not a bad-to-average team right now and the spread reflects that. The Trojans are loaded with talented players and are getting exceptional QB play from Sam Darnold.
So, yes; I think a 1-TD spread with the Huskies at home seems fair.
4. How has Washington performed against mobile quarterbacks that can create plays with their arms and their legs?
Not great. Arizona’s Brandon Dawkins was healthy for about 45 minutes this Pac-12 season, and it was against the Huskies. He got loose a few times and ripped off some long runs. Darnold doesn’t have that kind of breakaway speed, so I would liken him more to Utah’s Troy Williams who is also a capable runner. Williams had some nice scrambles against Washington. Whether or not UW can contain and tackle Darnold when he breaks the pocket will be one of the biggest keys when USC has the ball. UW’s linebackers and DBs do tackle very well.
5. Can Washington win if Jake browning gets repeatedly knocked off his spot? If so, how?
If your QB is getting knocked around, your chances of winning go down dramatically. That applies to pretty much every team. The thing about Browning is that he reads defenses really well, so it’s unusual for him to take a ton of hits. He will hold the ball and take a sack here and there, but if he is beaten up it means that USC is really playing some great defense.
How would they win in that case? Well, the defense is #1 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, second in takeaways and second in sacks. So they could win with defense. They are also #1 in the conference in rushing yards per game and yards per carry, so they could win it on the ground.
But Chris Petersen relies on a balanced attack, so if USC can consistently get pressure on Browning, it bodes well for the Trojans.
6. What is your prediction for Saturday?
USC has the most talented roster of any team UW will face this season, and with QB play being so important, this is a tough game. I still can’t figure out why the Trojan defense isn’t better, but it’s only been middle of the Pac-12 statistically this season. Both offenses should be productive, but with the loud environment, I’ll give the edge to the Huskies and call it 31-24 UW.