SEATTLE – The first one was crucial.
When Erik Folk’s kick went through the uprights and Washington stunned then-No. 3 USC, 16-13, in 2009, Steve Sarkisian’s message of rapid resurrection received an immediate jolt.
The win delivered hope following a hopeless 2008 season. Folk’s 32-yard field goal as time expired in 2010 was another boon to the sense of renewal. At the time, the Huskies were 1-2 and coming off a blowout loss to Nebraska.
Last season USC reminded Washington of what could go wrong when everything doesn’t go right, thumping the Huskies, 40-17.
Which brings today’s game as another marker. Washington (3-2, 1-1 Pacific-12 Conference) faces the 11th-ranked Trojans (4-1, 2-1) at 4 p.m. at what is expected to be a wet and well-attended CenturyLink Field. The school said Friday that 62,530 tickets had been distributed.
The trek north is USC’s third time on the road in the last four games. Washington comes home following a 52-21 shellacking by Oregon last weekend in Eugene, Ore.
With the arrival of the Trojans, the Huskies are at the end of a harrowing schedule stretch during which they’ve played a team ranked in the top 11 four out of the past five games. That span has been a challenge for usually upbeat quarterback Keith Price.
Price sat in front of the media Monday and vowed to return to his perma-smile way. The young and often ineffective offensive line in front of him has left his confidence on the decline. Drops by his prime receivers have not helped.
“I’ve got to get my swagger back,” Price said.
He’ll get his shot against the Trojans, who were the top-ranked team in the preseason before a stunning 21-14 loss at Stanford derailed dreams and projections of USC returning to the crest of college football.
That leaves coach Lane Kiffin scoffing at any thought of the Trojans overlooking Washington with Oregon a couple of weeks away.
“That’s not hard to do,” Kiffin said of staying focused on Washington. “We’re not playing well enough to look ahead to anybody, obviously; we’ve already had one screw-up.”
That game combined with other pedestrian outings canceled quarterback Matt Barkley’s Heisman Trophy quest. Still, Barkley is tied for the conference lead in touchdown passes and is third in passer efficiency.
He comes to Seattle slated to play for the first time (he was hurt in ’09) with wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, the best receiving duo in the country. The Trojans have been able to supplement their passing prowess with Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd, who averages 5.5 yards a carry.
“I know Lane hates when I say this, but they’re probably the most talented team in our conference,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Washington thinks it’s close to a balanced attack of its own. Running back Bishop Sankey has three consecutive games of rushing for more than 100 yards, although one of those was against FCS opponent Portland State. Sankey’s success could be the key for Price to find firm footing once again. Sankey still won’t be USC’s defensive focus, but he has at least progressed from unknown nonissue to feasible threat.
Sankey’s 6-yard touchdown at Oregon was a flash of his talent. He cut back at the start of the play, spun out of a tackle and ran through another.
“That right there is a lot of determination, and it’s really cool when you put that on film because you know it’s there; we know he’s capable of things like that,” UW running backs coach Joel Thomas said. “That run is one of my favorite runs since we’ve been here.”
There’s little to indicate crucial tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will not play. He left the game against Oregon after being hurt late in the second quarter and did not return. He’s listed as the starter on the depth chart, and Sarkisian said on Monday’s coach’s show on 950-AM that Seferian-Jenkins would likely be able to go. Because of school policy, Sarkisian would not comment on Seferian-Jenkins’ status to the media this week.
So, USC pops up on the schedule at another crossroads for Washington. The two wins in Sarkisian’s first two years were time-buyers. The Trojans come this year with modest grumbling surfacing about the Huskies’ progress the last three seasons.
A win today will do more than just satisfy those who abandoned the bandwagon. It would put Washington at 2-2 through arguably the most brutish scheduling run in the country.
That would make another archival moment against USC.
NO. 11 USC (4-1, 2-1 PACIFIC-12 CONFERENCE) AT WASHINGTON (3-2, 1-1)
4 P.M., CENTURYLINK FIELD
TV: Ch. 13. RADIO: 950-AM, 850-AM, 102.9-FM
THE SERIES: Washington and USC have played 81 times since the series began in 1923. The Trojans hold a 49-28-4 series advantage. Washington won its first meeting against the Trojans, 22-0, in Seattle in 1923. When the series re-started in 1927, USC handed the Huskies six consecutive defeats before Washington reeled off five in a row. The longest streak either way in the series began in 1965, when the Trojans beat Washington for the first of 10 straight wins.
WHAT TO WATCH: How Washington counters USC receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, plus Keith Price’s mojo. Lee and Woods are trouble for all defenses. Washington corner Desmond Trufant will be up to the task, the question is if fellow corner Tre Watson can hold up his end. Also, Price will be looking to shake out of the funk he’s been in for a couple weeks.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: This is the end of the most difficult part of Washington’s schedule. If it can come out 2-2 against LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC, the season’s close looks brighter.
THE PICK: USC, 28-24.
7T.J. McDonald (S)6-3/205Senior
McDonald is the Trojans’ leading tackler on defense.
9Marqise Lee (WR)6-1/195Sophomore
In addition to his receiving ability, Lee has returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown this season.
2Robert Woods (WR)6-1/190Junior
Woods was actually the better receiver a year ago between he and Lee and touted as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate heading into this season.
91Morgan Breslin (DE)6-2/250Junior
Breslin leads the Trojans with 5.5 sacks this season.
4Torin Harris (CB)6-1/190Junior
One of USC’s weak spots is its second cornerback. Harris gets the start for the second consecutive week.
25Bishop Sankey (RB)5-10/200Sophomore
Has he earned respect yet? How USC sets up to defend the Huskies will answer that. He’s the best cure for what ails Price.
19DiAndre Campbell (WR)6-1/198Sophomore
Washington will try to exploit USC’s weakness at the second corner spot. It could mean a big day for Campbell.
Expect him to be full-go Saturday, helping Price get back on track.
32Tre Watson (CB)5-9/183Junior
Watson has made nice plays and been part of busts this season.
7Shaq Thompson (S/LB)6-2/215Freshman
Thompson was one of the few Washington defenders who could rival Oregon’s athletic firstname.lastname@example.org Todd Dybas email@example.com @Todd_Dybas blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports