What now for USC and Washington?

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
2:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Things move quickly now-a-days and everyone wants quick analysis. They also want that analysis to be sweeping and dramatic.

And, if said analysis is wrong, well, things move quickly now-a-days so there's new dramatic analysis to distract and sweep away that which is so five-minutes-ago.

So we have Washington beating USC, 16-13.

General conclusions thus far.

Washington is back!

USC is sunk!

The former seems more valid than the latter, but both hang on a small sample size.

Let's look at the two sides and how they emerged from Saturday's stunning game.

Washington

The win over USC stands alone. It will be a great memory for the program, no matter what.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian will have to avoid the week-after-beating-USC curse.

But, in terms of the 2009 season, what happens at Stanford on Saturday may be more relevant. (Interesting look here at how teams that upset USC do in their next game).

If the Huskies lose , they will be 2-2 and only a game ahead of where most projected them at the start of the season. The win over USC will be framed in retrospect as a great upset but not a revelation that the Huskies were ready to push into the top half of the conference.

A win at Stanford, though, would legitimize the Huskies as a Pac-10 contender. They'd take off for Notre Dame for an Oct. 3 date with the chance to make 2009 a special season.

The Huskies biggest personnel issue, however, remains: the secondary lacks athleticism and depth.

USC wasn't able to exploit that. How many other foes will?

But the biggest general question has been answered: Led by quarterback Jake Locker, the Huskies are good enough to compete -- and beat -- any team they play.

Will beating USC serve as a lift-off point for the program? Or will the visit to Stanford provide the letdown that brings back a less optimistic picture of where the Huskies stand in the Pac-10 pecking order?

That's the analysis for next week.

USC

The Trojans passed for only 110 yards at Washington, which the LA Times noted is the lowest total in Pete Carroll's eight-plus seasons leading the program.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
USC coach Pete Carroll took the blame for the loss to Washington.

The immediate reaction is to point at new play-caller Jeremy Bates, but that's probably not fair because everything USC does flows through Pete Carroll, who, despite his loosey-goosey Southern California cool, is a control freak.

Carroll blamed himself after the game. Good. He was right. His fingerprints were all over a ridiculously conservative offensive game plan, a plan that caused his team to play tight when the Trojans found the Huskies surprisingly unyielding.

Recall how USC fans ranted and raved about the Trojans last play-caller? That guy, a fellow by the name of Steve Sarkisian, now Washington's coach, rolled up 478 yards against LSU and he was the mastermind behind a perfectly executed game-winning drive against Carroll's defense.

Guess which team leads the Pac-10 in passing? That would be Sarkisian and his run-first quarterback Jake Locker.

During the preseason, I asked Sark a variety of questions about how he was "handled' as the Trojans offensive coordinator. He fought off the questions with grace, but it was clear that Carroll often wanted to keep things basic on offense and play to the Trojans defense.

USC's offense will be athletically superior to every defense it faces this season, though there are a number of elite Pac-10 defenses that can handle the present, watered-down version. The Trojans, no matter who plays quarterback, must throw the ball downfield and prevent teams from ganging up on the run.

Historically, USC, which plays host to Washington State on Saturday, has bounced back from these sorts of losses -- see seven consecutive Pac-10 titles. But the Trojans will face a stiff challenge at California on Oct. 3.

How might they play the rest of the season if they find themselves 1-2 in Pac-10? Hard to say. We haven't had to ask that question since they started 0-3 in 2001, Carroll's first season.

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