After being on the field for 39:49 against California, the Huskies’ defense prepares for a fast offense in USC as Pac-12 play continues for UW.
LOS ANGELES — Never before has Washington’s defense been on the field as long as this Husky defense was against California.
In UW’s 30-24 loss on Sept. 26, the Bears offense ran 92 plays and had the ball for nearly 40 minutes — 39 minutes, 49 seconds, to be exact — and UW defensive tackle Elijah Qualls seemed to feel every second of it the next morning.
“I stayed in bed for a good hour, two hours just lying down,” Qualls said. “I was so sore I could barely move.”
Up next for the Huskies is No. 17 USC, a 17-point favorite in their first meeting since 2012. Kickoff at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is set for 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
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And while the UW defense almost certainly won’t be on the field as long on Thursday — USC’s ramped-up offense ranks last in the Pac-12 in time of possession — the Trojans’ firepower is probably the most dynamic the Huskies (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) will face all season.
“It’s going to be a fight for sure,” Qualls said. “But we’re going to throw everything we’ve got at them.”
USC senior quarterback Cody Kessler is second in the nation with a QB rating of 201.2, and Steve Sarkisian’s Trojans (3-1, 1-1) are averaging 20 “explosion” plays of 10 yards or more each game. The Huskies, by comparison, are averaging 14.5 such plays.
The Trojans lead the Pac-12 in scoring, at 46.8 points per game, and their touchdown drives on average take just 1 minute 57 seconds.
“When they go fast, they go fast,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said.
UW counters with a defense has been a pleasant surprise early in the season. The Huskies lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense (15.8 points), rushing defense (104.5 yards) and total defense (321.0 yards).
Stanford upset USC a few weeks ago in the Coliseum by running the ball, controlling the clock and not turning the ball over. None of those have been strengths for UW’s young offense this season, and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said in hindsight he would have liked to be more “stubborn” in the run game against Cal, when UW’s top two backs had just 15 combined carries.
Junior running back Dwayne Washington, one of 42 players on the UW roster from southern California, had 109 yards rushing in the loss to Cal — and he did so on just 10 carries. He wants the ball more, and the Huskies want to run the ball more effectively to both take pressure off freshman Jake Browning and help out their own defense by keeping them off the field.
“I think we know Dwayne can do some things if we give him a chance,” UW coach Chris Petersen said.
Washington did lose a fourth-quarter fumble against Cal, one of UW’s five turnovers in that game. That’s one major issue the Huskies will have to clean up if they hope to pull off an upset on the road.
The Huskies have downplayed their first game against their former coach, Sarkisian, who in his second season at USC had the Trojans in position to be picked as the Pac-12 preseason favorite. After the Stanford loss, USC got back on track with a 42-14 rout at Arizona State.
“I think this is definitely one of the elite teams in our conference, without question,” Petersen said. “I always chuckle at the rankings and the ratings this early. I know this team is completely underrated in terms of rankings.”