Andrew Berg (8-0 SU, 3-4-1 ATS)
The national media has focused on two key narratives in this match-up and they are both wrong. How’s that for an introduction? I don’t necessarily mean that the pundits have missed the boat entirely on the Dawgs-Trojans game, just that they lack some of the context that will have a major impact on the outcome.
The first narrative is that UW and USC are two of the best offenses in the country, but that neither plays defense, so the game will turn into a crazy shoot-out, an environment where Caleb Williams feels comfortable. The narrative is three-quarters right- both offenses are great (UW 4th, USC 1st by SP+; UW 5th, USC 2nd by EPA). Moreover, USC’s defense is quite bad- 71st in SP+, 103rd in net points per drive. The part that the narrative misses is that UW’s defense is not bad- 32nd by SP+. Yes, last season’s defense was bad, or below-average if we’re being very charitable. The Dawgs don’t have a sexy defense that pushes offenses back and forces lots of turnovers. But the Huskies have largely prevented big plays (with the notable exception of the recent, scary Stanford data point) and allowed opponents to beat themselves. The USC offense has scored 40+ against every opponent other than Utah and Notre Dame. I don’t think UW’s defense is as good as either of those two, but I would likely take UW over any of the other teams over whom the Trojans have run roughshod.
The second incomplete narrative is that USC’s defense is uniquely susceptible to teams who grind it out on the ground. USC’s recent slump has come against three teams who all happen to prefer to run the ball- Notre Dame, Utah, and Cal. Those results, combined with USC’s shortcomings in the trenches in recent years, make it reasonable to conclude that the defense would rather see an opponent throw the ball than run. The numbers don’t support that big gap. USC has the 46th best EPA/Pass and 48th best EPA/Rush on defense. USC has certainly played teams that like to run the ball (99th in run rate faced, where a higher rank means more passes). They haven’t actually been better against the pass- they just haven’t faced it as much.
If you take away these popular narratives, I see two teams with comparably good offenses who have not quite fired on all cylinders over the last two weeks. One of them is at home, the other one has a better defense. That looks like a fairly even match-up to me, but if UW can get some injured players back on defense, I think that will be enough to off-set the home field advantage in a tight game.
Washington- 40, USC- 35
Mark Schafer (7-1 SU, 4-3-1 ATS)
Now it begins. The Gauntlet in November kicks off with a road trip to the Coliseum to take on the Trojans of USC. After the shabby offensive and defensive performances of the last 2 weeks (or last week and a half if you’re on offense) the Huskies will look to feast on an Alex Grinch coached defense that has not been up to par in year 2. However, in order to do that, the pass protection MUST be better than it has the past two weeks, and keep Mike in the pocket and give him time to throw. If they can do that, look for Michael Penix to regain control of the Heisman race.
The defense will have to key in on Caleb Williams as well, and his dual threat nature could be a problem, as the defense has struggled against guys who can run. If he can hit his receivers early, he might rack up the yards. This defense must be better from a disciplinary standpoint, as giving USC free yards is flirting with disaster. Look for the defense to try and throw Williams off and force turnovers, something we didn’t do last week against Stanford.
This is going to be a shootout, a true gladiator’s duel as both high powered offenses will flourish. But to go as far as USC winning this game? Like the Caleb Williams hype, I don’t see it.
Max Vrooman (7-1 SU, 4-3-1 ATS)
There are so many components to this game but at its core I can’t help but feel like it really comes down to one variable. Do you believe that Michael Penix Jr.’s play the last 2 weeks was affected by illness, and if so is he now fully back to form? Washington will likely be without WR Jalen McMillan and Germie Bernard may not be 100%. But against USC’s defense it seems difficult to fathom the Huskies not putting up 50+ points if Penix, Odunze, and Polk plus the O-line minus Mele are all healthy.
I think there’s a wider variance when it comes to USC’s offense against the Husky defense. USC and particularly QB Caleb Williams didn’t look themselves in consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Utah where they failed to score 35 points. Both of those teams are extremely physical at the line of scrimmage and were able to overwhelm USC’s offensive line and force Williams into bad decisions. It would help if Tuli Letuligasenoa is able to return from injury this week but that description doesn’t exactly sound like Washington.
I’m also expecting that we again have to see Makell Esteen start as the 4th safety alongside Dom Hampton due to a string of injuries at the position. That’s bad news against the most athletic set of receivers found anywhere in the conference outside of Seattle. Expect USC to have at least one if not multiple long TD scores over the middle, particularly after Williams scrambles to buy time.
It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the Huskies lose this game. If the offense turns the ball over multiple times like they have in past weeks then they almost certainly will lose. I’m putting my faith in a healthier Penix looking more like he did before the Oregon game and trusting that USC hasn’t learned how to tackle in the last 5 days.
Washington- 45, USC- 43
WEEK 10 ADVANCED STATS PREVIEWS— parker fleming (@statsowar) November 1, 2023
WASHINGTON @ USC pic.twitter.com/HXWLSupIHS
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 3, USC- 0
Against the Spread (UW -3): Washington- 2, USC- 1
Average Score: Washington- 44.3, USC- 39.7