HEADLINE

No. 20 USC out to end No. 5 Washington’s unbeaten season

Field Level Media

November 01, 2023 at 4:07 am.

Looking to continue its perfect season, No. 5 Washington travels to Los Angeles on Saturday for a Pac-12 showdown with 20th-ranked Southern California.

The Huskies (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) arrive with a streak of four consecutive single-digit victories after holding off Stanford last Saturday, 42-33. The nine-point margin was Washington’s widest over the recent stretch, which also includes wins of 31-24 on Sept. 30 at Arizona; 36-33 on Oct. 14 vs. Oregon; and 15-7 on Oct. 21 vs. Arizona State.

With its positioning in Tuesday’s first College Football Playoff rankings, Washington is just outside the coveted top four needed to earn the first Pac-12 bid to the national semifinals since the 2016 Huskies did so.

The Huskies have won 15 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak among FBS teams behind No. 2 Georgia (25).

Like Washington, USC (7-2, 5-1) has also had its share of nail-biting finishes in recent weeks. That includes a 34-32 loss on a last-second field goal Oct. 21 vs. Utah for the Trojans’ second loss of the season, complicating their aspirations for a playoff bid.

No team has ever made the field with more than one loss, but USC can move into the conference lead with a win on Saturday.

The Trojans’ run of close finishes also include a 43-41, three-overtime defeat of Arizona on Oct. 7, and last weekend’s 50-49 rally from down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win at Cal.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams went 23-for-40 for 369 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for a pair of scores vs. the Golden Bears. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has passed for 25 touchdowns against just four interceptions — three of which came in the Trojans’ Oct. 14 loss at Notre Dame — and has rushed for nine scores on the season.

“Elite playmaker,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said of Williams. “(His) eyes are downfield and (he) buys time (using his feet).

“(He) will not be afraid to make any throw on the run, deep down the field, so we’ve got to do a really good job staying on the receivers, or any skill player.”

Williams’ ability to connect with a variety of targets beyond just receivers has been evident the last two weeks with tight end Lake McRee’s uptick in production. McRee caught three passes for 35 yards against Utah, then hauled in four catches for a season-high 71 yards at Cal.

USC’s top two targets, however, are receivers Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice. Washington has 35 receptions for 711 yards and five touchdowns, while Rice has produced 519 yards and nine TDs on 30 receptions.

Washington’s Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk, meanwhile, rank No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the Pac-12 in yards per game with 113.4 and 104.5.

Pass-catchers should play a prominent role in Saturday’s showdown of Heisman hopefuls. As Williams looks to join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as the only two-time recipients of the award, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. may be the leading contender to wrest the trophy away.

Penix went 21-of-37 passing for 369 yards with four touchdowns and one interception last Saturday. His nation-leading 368.1 passing yards per game are almost 40 more than the next-most prolific quarterback, and he has thrown 24 touchdowns — third most nationally — for the nation’s ninth-highest scoring offense at 40.4 points per game.

“Runs the offense really, really well,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said of Penix on Monday’s Trojans Live radio show. “You can tell he’s got a lot of experience with Kalen and his system, and you can tell. It shows up.”

USC ranks among the eight teams producing more points per contest than Washington, however, with the nation’s second-leading output of 45.9 per game.

Saturday’s matchup is the first between USC and Washington since 2019, and the first in Los Angeles since 2015. Both were Huskies wins.