Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now
University of Washington Huskies Football

Things to watch: Can Huskies contain Heisman candidate Caleb Williams and remain unbeaten?

By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Here are some things to watch as No. 5 Washington (8-0) take on No. 24 USC (7-2) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on ABC and the Huskies are favored by 3½ points.

UW key playersQB Michael Penix Jr.: 68.8% completions, 2,945 passing yards, 24 pass TD, six INT

WR Rome Odunze: 51 catches, 907 receiving yards, seven receiving TD, one rush TD, one return TD

Edge Bralen Trice: 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks

CB Jabbar Muhammad: 29 tackles, six pass breakups, five TFL, two sacks, one INT

USC key players

QB Caleb Williams: 68.2% completions, 2,646 pass yards, 25 pass TD, four INT, 136 rushing yards, nine rush TD

RB MarShawn Lloyd: 766 rushing yards, 7.7 yards per carry, eight rush TD, 157 receiving yards

DE Jamil Muhammad: 32 tackles, 10 TFL, six sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one PBU

Penix’s precision

UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. hasn’t played to his typical standard the past two weeks, completing a combined 48 of 80 passes (60%) for 644 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. There are reasons for that – the obvious illness he played through against Stanford, standout wide receiver Jalen McMillan’s ongoing injury situation, UW’s suddenly leaky offensive line and inconsistent running game. But regardless of the reasons, this much is clear: UW can’t outscore USC if its best player looks pedestrian. USC’s defense has struggled mightily, ranking 113th nationally in scoring defense (32.6 points allowed per game) and 114th in total defense (420.9 yards allowed per game). On Saturday, Penix needs to pounce.

Containing Caleb

Ashton Daniels is no Caleb Williams. And yet, Stanford’s sophomore signal caller torched UW’s defense last weekend – throwing for 367 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 81 yards and two more scores. How will Washington fare against the country’s premier dual threat passer? Through nine games, Williams – the reigning Heisman Trophy winner – has accounted for 34 touchdowns, 10 more than Penix. He has prolifically and repeatedly extended plays. On Saturday, it’ll be up to UW’s defense – which has mustered just 34 tackles for loss (120th nationally) and 10 sacks (126th) – to contain and corral Williams. The more Williams extends plays, the easier it is for his wide receivers to get open against an inconsistent Husky secondary.

Finishing drives

UW has scored on just 83.3% of its red-zone trips, sitting 74th in the nation. Last weekend, Washington twice failed to put the game away – surrendering a fumble and an interception inside Stanford’s 10-yard line. The week prior, UW committed four turnovers – two interceptions and two fumbles – against Arizona State, with one of those picks coming on the edge of the end zone. UW enters Saturday’s game ranked 98th nationally in turnover margin, at -0.38. But in more positive news, Husky opponents have gone just 3-12 on fourth down in their past three games, often sealing Washington wins. You can be sure that both UW and USC will move the ball. The winner may be the team that more effectively finishes drives.

Vorel’s prediction

Let’s face it: the Huskies have been leaking gas. Despite being 8-0 and ranked fifth in the nation, they’ve been outgained in each of their past three games. They suffered upset scares against a pair of Pac-12 also-rans in 2-6 Arizona State and 2-6 Stanford. They’ve come this far on the strength of their passing attack … which has been frustratingly inefficient in the past two weeks. It’s not that USC is a verified heavyweight, having lost two of its past three games and bested Cal (a team UW thumped by 27) 50-49 last week. But UW’s offense has become suddenly inconsistent and its defense struggles to get off the field. Penix and Williams will both make their plays, but USC will snap UW’s 15-game winning streak.

Final score: Trojans 41, Huskies 38