Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hard to believe ... kind of

Washington 16, USC 13. On a day filled with weird finishes, that one topped them all.

I've been trying to tell people for months that with Jake Locker back, Washington is an entirely different team than the one that went winless last year -- a near-upset in the opener against LSU confirmed that -- but I still never expected an upset of USC.

At the same time, though, it's gotten to the point where a USC loss to one of the worst teams in the conference is almost expected at some point. You never see it coming and the final score still seems shocking, but it happens pretty much every year. It's never the big games -- Ohio State, Cal, etc. -- it's Stanford or Oregon State or Washington.

Was Matt Barkley's shoulder injury the difference? Maybe. Aaron Corp really struggled, finishing with 110 passing yards and a pick and doing a whole lot of nothing on the final two drives. After Washington took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth, Corp didn't complete a pass the rest of the game. Barkley wasn't much better last week against Ohio State until the final drive, but with a tough road game already under his belt, it's hard to imagine that he'd have performed any worse than Corp did.

But regardless of who's under center, there are some legitimate questions right now about USC's offense. The 250 yards and 10 points through 57 minutes against Ohio State was understandable -- freshman QB, night game on the road, etc. -- but 110 passing yards and one total touchdown against Washington?

The guys standing on the other sideline probably had a lot to do with that, but not in the way you might think. USC has somehow survived as a dominant force for the last six years despite regularly losing elite assistants like Norm Chow, Lane Kiffin and Nick Holt, but at some point, there's bound to be a drop-off. The Trojans saw this a few years ago when Steve Sarkisian took over for Norm Chow as O-coordinator, and both coordinators (Mike Smith on offense and Rocky Seto on defense) are new this year.

Everyone knows about Sarkisian ending up at Washington, but there hasn't been as much talk about Holt, who was USC's defensive coordinator from 2006-08 (he was also USC's linebackers coach from 2000-03 before becoming head coach at Idaho). Where is Holt now?

Based on the photo at right, I'd say he's probably celebrating U-Dub's biggest win in years.

Looking at the big picture, Pete Carroll has to be concerned about his passing game. It's hard to say right now whether the problem lies more with the QB play or with the playcalling, but there's obviously something wrong, and this isn't the best time to be trying to find an offensive identity. Next week's home game against Washington State is an auto-win, but after that?

10/03 @ No. 8 California 8:00 PM
10/17 @ Notre Dame 3:30 PM
10/24 Oregon State
8:00 PM
10/31 @ Oregon 8:00 PM

USC is gonna have to score points, and the last two games have given everyone on the schedule a defensive blueprint. Things won't be getting any easier.

As for Washington, there's still a long way to go in the rebuilding process -- bowl eligibility would be a nice first step -- but it has to feel good to be relevant again. The question now is whether Sarkisian and Holt can get this team back into regular Pac-10 contention, and based on the first three games, I'd say they're off to a pretty good start.

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