After an impressive performance against former No. 10 Utah, the Trojans will take on No. 17 Washington in what is expected to be one of their most challenging road contests this season. Ranked No. 21 after upsetting the Utes, USC looks to its third quarterback this season, redshirt junior Matt Fink, to secure an undefeated conference record.
“You want to make sure that everybody is ready and prepared for the moment, and that’s exactly what Matt Fink has done,” head coach Clay Helton said after practice on Tuesday. “He’s prepared in this system for basically 50 practices waiting for his opportunity, and he made the most of it.”
Fink — the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the Trojans’ roster at the moment — shined at the helm last week after filling in for freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who left the game with a concussion on the opening possession of the game.
The former three-star recruit out of Glendora High School threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Senior captain wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. caught 232 of those yards on 10 receptions.
“It's kind of surreal,” Fink said. “It's an amazing opportunity for me and for the team to keep moving forward. It hurts to see anybody on the team get hurt in any way or shape, but it's a great opportunity for me to grow and for this team to be better.”
Washington suffered a close 20-19 loss in week two against Cal but has since rebounded, routing Hawaii and BYU in their past two games and showing off junior quarterback Jacob Eason’s prowess. BYU handed USC an overtime loss on the road in week three, but Eason and the Huskies beat the Cougars 45-19 last week by passing for 290 yards and recording three touchdowns.
Pittman and the rest of USC’s receiving corps holds talent, but Washington’s secondary will arguably pose its toughest challenge yet. The Huskies have snagged four interceptions in their past two games and rarely give up deep throws. Expect Washington to be physical on the flanks and keep a close eye on Pittman, sophomore wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and redshirt junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns.
“USC is always going to get good players, and they got a bunch of good players right now,” Washington head coach Chris Peterson said on Tuesday. “I think [USC] is really improving and got a lot of skill; this will be our biggest challenge so far.”
Washington would not be a top-20 team nationwide without receivers such as senior Aaron Fuller, who racked up 91 receiving yards and a touchdown against BYU while also returning an 88-yard punt for another touchdown. If Fuller is able to carry his momentum into week five, it could be problematic for the Trojans’ defense.
Both teams’ run games will also be crucial for a victory. Junior running backs Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr have taken the bulk of USC’s running plays, with freshman Markese Stepp contributing on the ground as well, most notably recording a clutch touchdown late against Utah last week.
Washington holds an advantage over USC in both offensive rushing yards and rushing yards allowed; however, the Huskies may be their without lead tailback, junior Salvon Ahmed, due to a leg injury. Look for tailbacks junior Sean McGrew and redshirt freshman Richard Newton to try and penetrate the Trojans’ defense throughout the game.
The USC football program has lost five of its last seven away trips over the past two seasons. Saturday’s game marks the first time USC has been ranked on the road since it upset No. 4 Washington in 2016 as the No. 20 team in the nation. How the team handles the raucous atmosphere of Husky Stadium, one of the loudest venues in college football, remains to be seen. Regardless, head coach Clay Helton will look to repeat the success of USC’s 2016 contest in Seattle, Wash., with this year’s squad.
USC and Washington will face off on Saturday at Husky Stadium. The game airs on FOX at 12:30 p.m.