Max Meyer’s betting previews are part of a weekly column on Reign of Troy to highlight the Las Vegas odds and daily fantasy picks around college football. This week’s edition previews Thursday’s USC vs. Washington game.
After a needed bye for USC (and a much more needed bye for my ATS picks), coach Steve Sarkisian faces off against Washington. In Sark’s five seasons at Washington, he turned a zero-win team into a bowl-eligible one rather quickly. He could not, however, elevate the Huskies to the next level, earning the moniker ‘Seven-Win Sark.’
Washington travels to the Los Angeles Coliseum to face Sark, along with defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo, for the first time since leaving for USC. Now led by Chris Petersen, the Huskies have shown promise on defense through four games, but the offensive side of the ball has been a struggle.
One statistic floating around USC is the drop off in plays run per game. USC averages 66 plays per game, and that has resulted in leaving its defense on the field for longer. The lack of plays, though, is due to the fact of how explosive the Trojans’ offense has been.
Washington is actually even worse in that department. The Huskies average 59.8 plays per game, which is the third-worst in college football –only Army and Troy average fewer. And it’s not because of Washington’s explosive offense. In fact, USC averages more than two more yards per play (8.06 to 5.96) on offense.
True freshman Jake Browning leads the helm at quarterback, and has been inconsistent at best this season. In Washington’s two losses against Boise State (the only road game in his career) and Cal this season, Browning has only completed 37 of 62 passes for 302 yards. That’s fewer than five yards per attempt! He didn’t throw a touchdown either, and was intercepted three times.
Sep 12, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning (3) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the Sacramento State Hornets at Husky Stadium. Washington won 49-0. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Turnovers have been a problem for Washington, as the Huskies have given the ball away 10 times in just four games. Compare that to USC’s two giveaways, and that’s a discrepancy an underdog can ill-afford. Additionally, Washington is only 15 of 46 on third-down conversations this season. That 32.6 percent success rate is 112th in the country.
Washington’s lack of an explosive offense is a killer too, tied for last in the Pac-12 with only 17 plays of at least 20 yards. Not only does Washington rarely create big plays, it often generates negative plays on offense. The Huskies’ offense average seven negative plays from scrimmage per game, which is 105th in college football.
Washington’s deadliest weapon is probably former USC commit Jaydon Mickens. Mickens is a dynamic playmaker at wideout, and he is extremely quick. Washington’s leading rusher is freshman Myles Gaskin, but 146 of his 206 yards rushing this season came in one game against FCS Sacramento State. He has 63 yards on 25 carries in the other three contests. Junior back Dwayne Washington leads the Huskies in catches and is second in rushing yards.
A common theme among the Washington offense is youth and inexperience, as three of its starting offensive linemen are freshmen, and another is a sophomore. This is a unit that USC needs to take advantage of by generating pressure early and often. USC’s blitzes caused a few bad throws by Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. It’s not hard to envision a similar result happening against a true freshman quarterback making his fifth career start behind a very young offensive line.
On defense, Washington has surrendered a conference-low 4.3 yards per play. I’m not completely buying the competition the Huskies have faced. Cal was the best offense Washington has faced, and the Bears put up 30 points and 5.2 yards per play on the road.
READ ALSO: 5 Things To Watch For vs. Washington
Washington’s best defensive player is safety Budda Baker, who will help patrol the middle of the field. With the amount of weapons USC has though, it’ll be easy for Cody Kessler to direct his attention away from the defensive back playmaker. I’m not sure any team can completely cover USC’s group of skill position players, so the only chance Washington’s defense has is to generate a good amount of pressure. A defense can’t afford to let Kessler have time and pick them apart.
With Washington’s low numbers of plays per game, it’s hard to see the Huskies catching up with USC’s offense. The way to beat the Trojans, as Stanford showed, is to dominate possession and consistently pick up third downs. Washington doesn’t have the firepower on offense, and its defense will tire in the second half.
But it won’t even matter by then, since the game will already be out of reach, especially since USC is an excellent first quarter team. USC has scored a first quarter touchdown in 18 straight games, which is the longest streak in college football. Even with the expected bye week rust, I still think USC’s offense comes running out of the gate and builds a big lead.
USC vs. Washington Final Score Prediction:USC 42, Washington 21
Best Bet: USC -9 in the first half
Other Pac-12 Bets I Like (or for you to fade):
- Colorado +15 at Arizona State
- Cal +7.5 at Utah
- Washington State/Oregon over 70 points
Season Record: 4-13 | Best Bets Record: 0-3
College Football DFS
I haven’t played Thursday/Friday college football DFS yet, and for good reason: there are only four games this week. I think USC still manages to score plenty of points against Washington, even though not all of the USC players’ prices reflect that. So there are some good values. Steven Mitchell Jr.’s price finally shot up, but I don’t think Darreus Rogers will play, so more targets for him. The main benefactor of Rogers’ status could be Isaac Whitney, who is priced at the minimum. And I have no problem rolling with Kessler and Tre Madden as well.
Here is my lineup:
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