No. 21 USC (3-1) at No. 17 Washington (3-1)
12:30 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
TV: Fox. Radio: KOMO-AM 1000/FM-97.7
Latest line: Huskies by 10½ points.
UW key players
QB Jacob Eason: 73.1 percent completions, 1,063 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
RB Sean McGrew: 242 rushing yards, 6.2 yards per carry, 1 TD
LB Kyler Manu: 20 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup
DB Elijah Molden: 16 tackles, 7 PBU, 1 forced fumble, 1 TFL
USC key players
QB Matt Fink: 70 percent completions, 351 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
WR Michael Pittman Jr.: 31 catches, 437 yards, 14.1 yards per catch, 3 TD
S Talanoa Hufanga: 42 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU
DL Drake Jackson: 17 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 1 safety
The run rotation
It doesn’t particularly matter who has stood in the backfield for UW. Behind a seasoned offensive line, the Husky running game has been effective. Three different running backs — juniors Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew and redshirt freshman Richard Newton — have scored a touchdown and enter Saturday’s game averaging at least 5.4 yards per carry. The team’s technical starter, Ahmed, missed his first career game against BYU last weekend and is considered week-to-week with a leg injury. Regardless, the Huskies will look to set the tone on the ground — particularly if it’s another wet fall Saturday, as the forecast suggests. Keep an eye on ball security for Newton, who fumbled twice against BYU. Washington should find some success against a young USC defense that has allowed opponents to average 4.29 yards per rush thus far.
Rain on the air raid
UW’s best defense on Saturday may be the weather. Even with a third-string quarterback starting in redshirt junior Matt Fink, it will be difficult to slow down the wide receiver trio of Michael Pittman Jr. (31 catches, 437 receiving yards, 3 TD), Tyler Vaughns (27, 370, 2) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (19, 207, 3). Washington’s inconsistent secondary will be tested, and it would certainly help if juniors Keith Taylor and Elijah Molden could finally snag their first career interceptions. Fink certainly threw balls up for grabs in an upset win over Utah last weekend, and those are opportunities for UW’s DBs to potentially make game-changing plays. And even if the rain pours, don’t expect the Trojans to suddenly abandon first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s version of the air raid. USC has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on the ground this season.
Eason into conference play
It’s going to be hard for junior quarterback Jacob Eason to top his performance in last weekend’s 45-19 win over BYU. The 6-6, 227-pound Lake Stevens product completed 24 of 28 passes (85.7 percent), throwing for 290 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He has 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions on the season. But Eason (and, more accurately, his wide receivers) was far less spectacular in the Huskies’ Pac-12-opening 20-19 loss to Cal. He still needs to prove he can replicate the BYU performance against (arguably) elite competition. USC’s secondary is exceedingly young, but it’s talented. Eason will be looking to exploit it by repeatedly targeting junior tight end Hunter Bryant (who, by the way, is tied for the national tight end lead with 285 receiving yards) and senior wide receiver Aaron Fuller, among others. If he can produce a few more explosive plays, and protect the football, the Husky offense should continue to roll.
It’s true, Fink completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns with an interception in relief last weekend. But is it really wise to expect a sequel? Statistics aside, Fink is still USC’s third-string quarterback. He was still stashed behind a true freshman in Kedon Slovis before finally stealing the spotlight. If Fink indeed earns his first career start on Saturday, Lake will be ready. That’s not to say first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s air raid won’t put up yards. It’s not to say Pittman, Vaughns and St. Brown won’t pile up a few explosive plays. But Washington’s offense will keep rolling on Saturday, and the UW defense — which has forced three turnovers in each of the last two games — will take advantage of a few mistakes from an inevitably inexperienced signal caller. The Huskies will earn their first win of the fall over a ranked opponent.
Prediction: Huskies 34, Trojans 28