5 things to watch: Washington-USC

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
12:39
PM PT
1. Back-to-back-to-back. Until this year, it had been a full decade since USC had lost three straight games to a single opponent. Stanford reset the clock on that last month at the Coliseum with its triple-overtime victory over the Trojans, but USC runs the risk of doing that once again this weekend against Washington. The last two times the Trojans and Huskies have met, Washington has pulled out last-minute victories on the foot of kicker Erik Folk. USC's favored by nearly two touchdowns this time around, but this isn't the typical game with that margin. The Huskies were just as easily supposed to lose each of the last two games, but Jake Locker buoyed them into victories each time.

2. Price and Polk. On the topic of Locker, Keith Price is no Locker, but Washington's Price and Chris Polk are up there this year among all the QB-RB tandems the Trojans have faced, probably behind only Stanford's Andrew Luck and Stepfan Taylor. Polk, a junior who once committed to USC in high school, has gotten at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season and has already surpassed 1,000 yards. Price started the season, his first as the starter, really hot but has since cooled down. He's thrown a combined five picks in his last two games, so the Trojans clearly have an opportunity to force turnovers against him.

3. A healthy defense. Those turnovers depend on the playmakers of this defense, and a couple of those playmakers were absent against Colorado last week. Strongside linebacker Dion Bailey, the biggest pleasant surprise of the unit this year, wasn't cleared to play because of a concussion but is now slated to move back into the starting lineup for Washington. And safety T.J. McDonald missed the first half of that game because of a Pac-12 suspension -- he'll be playing right away against the Huskies, and he'll be motivated after USC coach Lane Kiffin told reporters that McDonald played tentatively in the second half last week.

4. The USC RBs. Curtis McNeal has been handling himself just fine as USC's primary running back the last two weeks, except for the injuries that seem to come up every time he picks up more than 10 or so carries in a game. The good thing for the Trojans is that Marc Tyler is healthy again and will be available against Washington. Against Notre Dame, McNeal and Tyler made for a combination the Irish had no consistent answer for, so it'll be interesting to see if the Huskies have anything ND didn't. George Farmer is also expected to play for the first time since the Notre Dame game, so the Trojans could use him for a trick play or a mix-'em-up call.

5. Sarkisian-Kiffin. The two coaches, USC's Kiffin and Washington's Steve Sarkisian, managed to create some entertainment for Saturday's game with their back-and-forth barbs this week. There's something fun about their interactions, almost as if you can see the Pete Carroll influence in the both of them. Both have the opportunity to get one step closer to making their 2011 seasons unabated successes with wins Saturday. In Sarkisian's case, a win against the Trojans means his team is probably going to finish with nine wins, considering the Huskies' last two opponents. In Kiffin's case, a win against Washington means his team is going to enter into next week's matchup with Oregon a top-15 team, probably right around the same rank as the Ducks if they lose to Stanford on Saturday. A lot's on the line for both men, and there will surely be attention paid to their postgame interactions at the Coliseum.

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