Los Angeles -- The seventh-ranked USC Trojans continue their quest for an unprecedented seventh consecutive Pac-10 title Saturday as they welcome the hapless Washington Huskies to Los Angeles for a conference bout from the Coliseum.
Pete Carroll's Trojans have won six of their first seven games and enter this contest riding a four-game win streak. The team was last in action at Arizona this past weekend, where it squeaked by the Wildcats in a 17-10 final. With the victory, USC moved to 4-1 in league play, tied with Oregon atop the league standings.
At the other end of the conference ladder is the Huskies, whose 0-7 start has prompted a change at the top, as Tyrone Willingham will step down at the end of this season. The team simply hasn't performed up to expectations, prompting the move.
"We didn't win enough football games. That's it," Willingham said. "Hopefully, we've done all the other things right, (and) it's a good strong program for someone to jump into and do things."
USC leads the all-time series with Washington, 48-26-4, and has won six straight matchups and seven of the last eight overall.
One look at the offensive numbers and it is easy to see why Washington is still in search of win number one. The team is averaging just 16.1 ppg this year, on a meager 291.0 yards of total offense.
Injuries have also hampered any offensive progress, including at QB, where redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch has settled in. However, Fouch has struggled with consistency as most youngsters do, completing just 49.2 percent of his passes, with four TDs and the same amount of interceptions.
Another player that has had to step up is WR D'Andre Goodwin, who paces the team in receptions (39) and receiving yards (498), with one TD.
Washington's defense has suffered as a result of the stagnant defense, allowing a generous 39.6 ppg. The Huskies have been especially abused by opposing ground games, which are churning out 235.6 yards per game on 5.7 yards per carry. The pass defense hasn't been much better (244.0 ypg) and big defensive plays have been few and far between. UW has recorded a shoddy five sacks on the season, while forcing just five turnovers.
Mason Foster has been the team's most active defender, tallying a team-high 60 tackles on the season, with 6.5 TFls and one INT. Nate Williams is second on the team in stops (47), with an interception of his own.
The Trojans on the other hand are moving the chains with ease this season, showing the ability to get over on foes both with the ground game (190.9 ypg) or the pass (265.7 ypg).
Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been solid under center, converting just under 64 percent of the time, for 1,717 yards and 20 TDs. It helps to have a full stable of pass catchers to turn to, including standouts Damien Williams (28 receptions, for 442 yards, five TDs) and Patrick Turner (23 receptions, for 333 yards, five TDs).
The maturation process of Sanchez under center is something Pete Carroll is excited about being a part of.
"We'll continue to help Mark Sanchez along as he's developing. He's playing terrific football. He's had a great season up to now, but he's got a lot of areas that he can continue to grow at and become a seasoned veteran, decision maker, all of that. That's all going to happen. You can't stop it from happening. He's too sharp. He cares too much. He works too hard, all that. We need to help him along the way as best we can. There's responsibility on all of us."
USC's rushing exploits lack a workhorse back, but rather the team gets the tough yards from the trio of Joe McKnight (7.2 ypc), Stafon Johnson (5.4 ypc) and C.J. Gable (5.6 ypc).
The USC defense has been equally productive on the year, if not more so. The Trojans rank among the nation's elite in several categories, including leading the nation in scoring defense at a mere 8.1 ppg. The team also ranks second in pass defense (129.6 ypg) and 10th against the run (86.0 ypg).
The linebacking corps spearheads the USC attack, led by standouts Brian Cushing (team-high 42 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble) and Rey Maualuga (41 tackles, one INT).