Clay Helton addressed the media following Tuesday’s practice and as usual he spent much of that time breaking down what the Trojans can expect to see from their upcoming opponent. Helton said the first thing that jumps out at you about Washington is just how balanced they are. USC is used to dealing with great running teams like Arizona, and great passing teams like Cal but the Huskies are great at both.
Helton also said that while Jake Browning is an amazing quarterback and the focus is rightfully on him because his decision-making, timing and accuracy, Washington has an impressive rushing attack as well. In fact, Washington is actually more of a run team with 351 rushes on the season compared to 234 passing attempts. Myles Gaskin is the leading rusher for the Huskies with 151 carries for 952 yards and 8 touchdowns. Gaskin is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and is the primary reason why Washington has the best rushing offense in the Pac-12.
If you manage to slow down Myles Gaskin and the rushing attack then Jake Browning and the passing game will still put up points. Browning has 34 touchdown passes (another 4 rushing) to just 3 interceptions. He is 149 for 220 with 2273 yards, a 67.7 completion percentage and a passer rating of 202.8. Of Browning’s 34 touchdown passes 25 of them have gone to 2 players; John Ross (14) and Dante Pettis (11). Wide Receivers Ross and Pettis also account for about 54% of all of Washington’s receiving yards. Ross and pettis are also impact players on special teams as well.
It should come as no great shock that the Trojans will need excellent play from their defensive backs on Saturday. USC has to be able to neutralize these two wide receivers particularly if the defensive front cannot get pressure on Browning and get him off his spot. Iman Marshall may be tested quite a bit on Saturday and if Biggie cannot rise to the challenge then defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will need to find a way to help him out. Further compounding that problem was that Marshall was held out of practice on Tuesday for a hamstring injury though he is still probable for Saturday.
On defense the Huskies are only allowing 17 points per game which makes Washington the best scoring defense in the Pac-12. What really sticks out to Helton though is the Washington secondary. Defensive backs Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King have been the statistical leaders in the Washington secondary and Helton described them as NFL talent.
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.
Biggie Marshall was kept out of practice on Tuesday because of his hamstring but he is still probable for Saturday. Running Back Justin Davis is finally probable for Saturday’s game though Helton is not quite sure yet how frequently he will use him. Wide receiver Deontay Burnett had seven receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown on Saturday and he also has a thumb and knee injury he is dealing with. Burnett remains probable for Saturday. While Davis is back, and Ronald Jones is running hard, Aca’Cedric Ware is still questionable with an ankle injury as is defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu who is dealing with a knee injury.
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