• John Skinner

2016 Washington Preview

A pro scout’s take on Washington vs. SC: A pro scout focused on the west coast that is very familiar with both Washington and SC had the following observations: “From a talent/personnel perspective, SC and Washington are around the same level but I would give SC the edge talent wise.  However, Washington has some key factors in its favor: A stronger defensive line, more experienced coaching staff and they are playing at home.  SC is yet to play a disciplined game in a difficult road environment and though they have won a bunch of games in a row, the quality of competition has been suspect.  The victory over Colorado was nice but SC had a major talent edge and it was at home in Coliseum.

A pro scout’s take Part II:  How SC can win this game: Washington has yet to play a team as talented as SC but they have a mental edge with being undefeated and feeling invincible at home.  It is very important SC gets off to a good start and rattles Washington causing them to lose some of the swagger they have developed with being #4 team in the nation.  Besides playing disciplined football, SC must establish a consistent running game. Washington has a great defensive line but their best pass-rusher Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Joe Mathis got hurt vs. Cal and is out for the rest of the season.  Mathis is a beast and a main reason Washington has been able to pressure an opposing QB without blitzing.  Washington has more sacks without blitzing (98) than any other team in the country since Chris Peterson took over. This is how Alabama stifled SC’s offense by pressuring Browne and dropping 7 defenders back against the pass.  The good news for SC is it is a big drop-off from Mathis to the next guy.  By establishing the run game, SC will be able to run play-action and force Washington to blitz more and give Darnold better passing and running opportunities against a Washington secondary that is the best SC has played against outside of Alabama.  Keep in mind, DARNOLD LEADS ALL POWER 5 QB’s IN COMPLETION % AGAINST THE BLITZ.

Defensively, SC’s defensive line is going to have to get some organic penetration and slow-down RB Myles Gaskin. If not, SC will have to add an extra man or two to the box and QB Jake Browning will have a big day.  He’s the real deal with a deadly accurate deep ball, underrated arm strength and he can hurt you with his feet.

The impact of the loss of Mathis to Washington: Mathis has already missed three games this year and they only registered three total sacks in twelve quarters. In the six games he has played, Washington had 24 sacks…

Helton’s chance at redemption: An SC victory on Saturday will finally quiet the Helton skeptics and make the season opener to Alabama seem like a distant nightmare with SC putting themselves in position to be an at-large pick for a major bowl (provided they also beat UCLA/ND) even if they don’t advance to the Pac-12 championship game. . .On the flip side, a double digit loss that features a lack of discipline will keep the skeptics scratching their heads.

Look out for an early trick play from the Huskies: Chris Peterson and his staff are great at figuring out opponents defensive tendencies in the secondary.  If they see an opportunity to burn overzealous DB’s/safeties who overcommit to stopping the run, they have no problem with a receiver or running back reading it and throwing to an open receiver.

Browning vs. Darnold: Browning has been having a Heisman contender season as he is second in the nation in passing TD’s (34) and first in passing efficiency. He has also only been sacked 16 times (1.7 per game).  However, as we know, Sam Darnold is competing near that level as well.  Darnold leads all Power 5 QB’s in completion % against the blitz and is on track to have the best passing efficiency ranking in school history.  He is currently seventh nationally in passing efficiency and fourth in the nation in ESPN’s total quarterback rating.  His 172 rushing yards are the most in a season by a USC QB since 1991.

3rd down efficiency will be key factor: With Sam Darnold at QB, SC’s third down conversion rate places them in the top 10 nationally.  However, Washington is the best team in the conference when it comes to third down efficiency. Defensively, Washington opponents convert on fewer than 32% of their third down attempts, ranking them 8th in the nation in this category.  It is pretty clear that SC cannot afford to be in too many third and long situations.

SC needs a big game from Juju..but is he healthy? What about Burnett?: SC’s top wideout has only 8 catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns since his back issue flared up against Arizona.  Prior to that, Smith-Schuster had a four game stretch of 29 catches for 466 yards and six td’s.  With fellow WR Deontay Burnett also banged up with a knee injury, Darnold’s two favorite targets will be limping into Husky Stadium which is a major concern…how will this impact their timing against a strong Washington blitz?

With WR’s banged-up will TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe have a big game? Look for SC to continue to increase its involvement of tight ends, especially Imatorbhebhe who has had quite a bit of mid-level/deep success this season.  An SC tight end has a touchdown catch in the past four games with Imatorbhebhe catching three of them.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits:

*If SC loses to Washington and Colorado and Utah both win this weekend, SC will be out of the race for the Pac-12 south title.  SC does not have the tie-breaker advantage it had last year.

*The spread for the game is currently +7.5. The spread opened at +9.

*SC has had 13 penalties in each of the past two games. SC will have to play much cleaner to pick up a win on Saturday.

*RB Ronald Jones has looked phenomenal against Cal and Oregon but it must be noted that both Cal and Oregon possess two of the worst run defenses in the country.  Success can still be had against Washington but it will definitely be more of a challenge.

*Washington is “all about the ball” leading the nation in turnover margin.

*Injury news: Defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu did not practice Wednesday but Helton would not be surprised if he played.  Inman Marshall was limited in practice with a hamstring issue but probably for the game.  WR Deontay Burnett has missed practices this week with a knee injury but remains probably Saturday. Running backs Justin Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware both got reps this week and should be available.

*Sam Darnold was named as one of 18 semi-finalist for the Davey O’Brien top collegiate QB award.

* It is not losing Peterson that SC fans should be frustrated by…it is losing Del Rio. Jack Del Rio is one of the most well-liked/respected coaches amongst the players in the NFL while also proving he is a top-tier coach with the quick turnaround of the Oakland Raiders…Del Rio definitely wanted the SC job that ultimately went to Sark.

*According to Scott Wolf, Ed Orgeron was the coach who identified Sam Darnold. In another Wolf note, three of SC’s past four losses to Washington occurred with three seconds or less left in the game (2001, 2009, 2010).