LOS ANGELES — This is the showdown we’ve been waiting for, and although the stakes are lower, the potential for fireworks as the Huskies visit the Trojans is still sky-high. The season started with Caleb Williams coming in as the favorite to repeat the Heisman for the first time since Archie Griffin did it for the Buckeyes in the ’70s. Michael Penix Jr. was the (not-so) dark-horse pick who many believed had a decent shot to unseat Caleb. Now, as we’re 24 hours away from their showdown at the coliseum, Michael Penix Jr. is the favorite to hoist the trophy in New York come December, and Caleb Williams’ is playing catch-up. Now, this match-up between Washington and USC is more than just the battle of the star QBs, but that’s where the attention will lie. Ironically, the Trojans come into this match-up with nothing to lose, and all the pressure is on the Washington Huskies. Let’s get into the tale of the tape.
Battle of The QBs? How About Battle of The Pass-Catchers
As I said, it’s not just a match-up between Penix and Williams; we have to highlight the weaponry on both sides because each of the wide receiver rooms is oozing with potential NFL talent. Last week, I wrote about how Tahj and Rice are future pros who should be fighting to go between rounds 4 and 6. Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk, the WR duo for the Huskies, could both go way earlier than that, with Odunze probably a strong candidate to go in the top 15 come April. The wide-outs in Columbus have overshadowed the pair of receivers, but as far as production goes, they’ve probably been the best two in the Nation. Through all the action thus far, Odunze and Polk have combined for 1,743 yards and 14 touchdowns, accounting for well over 50% of Penix’s production. The Huskies gave up 33 points to the Stanford Cardinals a week ago (one week after barely beating the ASU Sun Devils). For as under-fire as the Trojans’ defense and defensive coordinator have been, the Cardinal and Gold only gave up 10 points to the Cardinals. The Huskies allowed Elic Ayomanor to go for 140 and a score and also allowed Troy Franklin to pop off for 150 in their epic win against Oregon. The point is that Washington is undefeated and dangerous, but they’re not exactly clamping down on the Nation’s top receivers; Tahj, Rice, and co. have every opportunity to go and eat on Saturday. From a run-game standpoint, the Huskies aren’t a top-50 run defense, so it’d be great to see Riley unleash Lloyd. There’s no doubt that Williams is more than capable of going tit for tat with Penix, let alone out-dueling the Huskies’ signal-caller, but it’d be an excellent game here to zag from what we expect, run the ball and control the clock. On the Huskies run-game, they’ve had a 100-yard rusher once this season. Look if it aint broke don’t fix it, but the Huskies offense is way more one-dimensional than the Nation is being led to believe. So, let’s get to the defense.
Infiltrate The Dealer, Find The Supplier
It’s easier said than done, but if you stymie Penix Jr., you stymie Washington. Yes, Williams and the passing game garner the attention, but Lloyd has shot up draft boards arguably more than any player on the Trojans roster. The Huskies don’t have as much of a threat in the run game, despite having such a potent pass-attack and the lead often in games. The Trojans give up big plays. The Trojans let their opponents keep the chains moving on third down. The Trojans break when they shouldn’t. One of the few things the Trojans do well is get to the QB. That’s why the most pivotal players in this one are Bear Alexander, Jamil Muhammad, Romello Height, and Solomon Byrd. If these four can get to Penix Jr. and not just ruffle his feathers but bring him to the turf, then USC will have a shot to play spoiler and be back up at the top of the PAC-12 standings. To devil’s advocate in favor of Washington, the Washington offensive line has only given up five sacks on the season, which is unbelievable. Could the sack parade be wishful thinking? Maybe.
Unlike Bo Nix, who’s only tossed one pick this season, Penix Jr. has thrown six. It’s not an insane number, but he’s still susceptible to the turnover. Williams is no stranger to making opponents pay on turnovers. Saturday evening would be a helluva time for star safety Callen Bullock to come in for a monster pick. It’s a hot take, but Penix Jr. has been faltering in his last three contests, with two of the three games, Penix Jr. completing under 60% of his passes. In the one game in the three, Penix Jr. went over 60%; he turned the ball over twice. Bottom line: Penix Jr. is fantastic, but he’s not impenetrable, far from it.
Are We Buying Washington As A True Title Contender?
Short answer: no. I don’t think USC is too far off, if off at all, from Washington despite the narratives around these programs. I don’t know how serious we’re even taking the Huskies since after their loss to Oregon, the general narrative was “that the Ducks blew it, rather than the Huskies won it.” I think that USC, being the home dogs in this one, should (hopefully) give them the freedom to let loose and play their brand of ball. With no statistical proof, the Trojans haven’t lightened their grip and enjoyed playing ball this season. Hopefully, that changes on Saturday and leads to a victory.