With an 0-7 record, a bad taste left over from an awful game against Notre Dame and the announcement of Head Coach Tyrone Willingham's resignation following the season, the last thing the Huskies want to do is travel to Los Angeles to battle the Trojans of USC and their top ranked defense, but that's exactly what's in store for the Dawgs this Saturday.
"They're pretty good. They held Arizona, who averaged 40 points per game, to 188 yards of offense and 10 points, so that tells you how good they are. I think they're really similar to Oklahoma in that they're athletic and they run really well, but I think these guys are little bit more physical. Their backers are around 245-250 - all of them, and they're physical. They have two corners that can bump you and are good at it. Their safeties are as good as there is. They're both 235-240. One is 6-foot-1, the other is 6-foot-3 - both can run and they're both physical," explained Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano. "We've got our work cut out for us against these guys. They're stingy on the run and they're stingy on the pass. I think they're first in the nation in total defense. Oregon State pissed them off and they're playing with a little bit more urgency than when you watched them earlier. They're kind of on a mission right now defensively. They played really really well against Arizona."
The only team to beat USC this season are the Beavers of Oregon State.
"Oregon State played extremely physical with them. They were a spirited group that day. There was a lot of chirping going on, and you could see their swagger," said Lappano. "That's what you have to have to play USC. You can't go in there and be intimidated, you can't go in there and be scared. You have to step up to the challenge."
While it no doubt takes a team effort to win a football game, Lappano feels the Beavers' victory was a result of the play of Jacquizz Rodgers more than anything else.
"Everybody's tried to do what Oregon State did - the split zone. I don't think anybody has had that much success in doing a lot of things Oregon State did. I don't know if it's so much the scheme as just the kid [Rodgers]," explained Lappano. "He made some cuts that were unbelievable. He's so small that he got underneath them a couple of times. Those guys tried to come in there and get extremely physical with him, and he got right up underneath them. I don't think they could find him quick enough. He would start on one side and jump cut into the back side A gap. They were having a problem seeing him and finding him. He broke a lot of tackles in that game. The yards after contact in that game with that kid was pretty amazing."
Lappano discussed the ability of USC's defense to limit the big play, something that even Oregon State wasn't able to produce, despite coming away with the win.
"It's hard to get a big play on these guys, they don't give up big plays. A stat that kind of amazed me - Oregon State's longest gain was 22 yards. A kid rushed for 180 yards and they scored 27 points, which nobody's even come close to that - you think they had to have a big play. No, their longest gain was 22 yards," explained Lappano. "They know that people are going to try to scheme them up and trick play or double move, but they're not giving that up. It's hard to get something cheap on them. They don't give up a cheap, big play."
One of the Trojan defenders that has caught the eye of Lappano in specific is safety Taylor Mays. Mays, a native of Seattle and product of O'Dea High School, has emerged as one of the top defensive players in the nation.
"I'm really impressed with him. In high school, he was extremely athletic, he was fast and he had range, but he wasn't near as physical as he is right now. Even his freshman year when we played them up here, you could tell that he was athletic and fast, but he wasn't as physical as he is right now - he is really physical right now," expressed Lappano. "Taylor is playing extremely physical right now, and you can see that he's probably been in the weight room religiously, because he's big and he brings it. That was interesting to watch his growth the last couple of years, because he is a physical player now. Everybody has always thought that if he became really physical, that he's a first round draft pick. It's scary, it's scary - he brings it."
If Washington stands any chance at beating the Trojans in their house, the Huskies will have to look at last week's game against Notre Dame and do everything completely opposite. The Husky offense managed only 124 yards of total offense - 69 of those coming on Washington's last drive, when Notre Dame's defense had all but let up.
"We didn't execute very well. They came after Ronnie [Fouch] and we didn't deal with it very well. We dropped five footballs, and that kills drives. We only had 48 plays and that's on us, that's not the defense's fault. We had five three-and-outs. When you're dropping balls on third down, you're taking yourself off the field. You're not giving yourself that many chances," explained Lappano. "I don't think we stalled their blitz as good as we should of. There was too much penetration up the field, and we weren't able to push them off the football. I was disappointed that we had some missed assignments that we shouldn't have. We just weren't sharp.
"I think we took a big step back after taking a huge step forward against Oregon State, making eight or nine big plays over the top of them. I think we took a step backwards and that was disappointing," said Lappano. "Notre Dame is a good defense, but they weren't a great defense. I'm not taking anything away from them. They had a good plan and they pressured our young guys all the way across the board, and we didn't handle it very well. We're going to have to handle it a hell of a lot better this week."
The offensive line, which was supposed to be the strongest part of the team, has consistently underperformed the entire season, and it's showed. Jake Locker was able to avoid a lot of sacks and bail the line out. However, with Ronnie Fouch, who is by no means slow but by no means Locker either, behind center now, the offensive line's inability to protect their quarterback has showed in recent weeks. And as good as some of the defenses the Huskies have played this season are, none stack up to USC's.
"We have to become more physical and we've got to make sure we don't have [missed] assignments. You can say we only had two assignment mistakes up front and two in the backfield against Notre Dame, but those hits are critical on Ronnie, because a couple of those things sting. When you're looking one way and somebody's coming off the back edge and you get hit in the back of the head like that - he can't take many of those hits, that adds up," expressed Lappano. "We can't make those mistakes, it's too costly. It just takes one hit to knock a quarterback out of a football game. Every now and then I understand you're going to get beat physically, but we cannot make assignment mistakes when they're bringing the pressure. There wasn't a lot, but just two or three is enough to get your quarterback knocked out of the football game."
However, it's not all on the offensive line Lappano explained.
"There's a couple of times where Ronnie needed to get the ball inside and he was caught on Devin [Aguilar]. He's had a lot of success with Devin outside. He's got to get it inside-out, instead of outside-in, and he can get it out before he gets hit. We gave him that look in practice - that's inexperience. I told him that he can't keep doing that, because you're getting hit when you do that. If you read it inside-out, you're not going to get hit," explained Lappano. "It was just a combination of a lot of things. We were sloppy and I'll take full responsibility for that because we were a little bit sloppy on Thursday and I didn't like Thursday's practice. It wasn't as sharp as it needed to be, and there were signs of that on Saturday. We've got to get that cleaned up."
After getting David Freeman back last week from an ankle injury, the freshman running back re-injued his ankles and looks doubtful to play against the Trojans.
"He came off the field against Notre Dame, and he looked like he was in some pain. The medical report said they didn't know. They said I wouldn't count on it, but you never know, it's only Tuesday, so we'll have to wait and see," said Lappano. "But it didn't look like it after the game. He was hobbling around a little bit after the game and according to the report this morning, they're uncertain, so I don't know. So that gives us Terrance Dailey, Willie Griffin and Brandon Johnson - that's what we have right now."
Despite the tough task ahead of them, Lappano feels the Huskies can benefit from having to travel to Southern California.
"I think it's good. I think it's healthy right now with everything that's happened here. I think it's healthy that we're getting away and going down and getting a chance to play against probably the best team in the country," stated Lappano. "It's a chance to go down there and compete against the best players. Especially for some of our seniors who want to play at the next level, to play guys that are going to play at the next level, it's a good reach for them."
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