From bad to worse for UW?

LOS ANGELES — As if this past week wasn’t tough enough for the Huskies. Now they have to play USC.

Coming off a humiliating loss to Notre Dame last weekend, Washington football players found out Monday that their head coach won’t be their head coach once this brutal season is done playing out.

And now, after a week of digesting the news while trying to still go through their daily routines with practice, meetings, workouts and class? These 0-7 Huskies have a game to play.

Oh, right, they are still playing aren’t they? And while today’s game might seem like an afterthought given the week’s news, taking the field this afternoon at the Los Angeles Coliseum could prove far more painful than what they’ve been enduring.

The Huskies’ tumultuous week comes to an end against Pacific-10 Conference bully USC.

With BCS bowl aspirations, the Trojans certainly won’t enter today’s game feeling any sympathy for Tyrone Willingham or his team. And after Notre Dame so thoroughly dominated Washington at Husky Stadium last week, it’s scary to envision what could happen today at the hands of the mighty USC.

“We didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard offensively last week,” offensive line coach Mike Denbrock said when asked about trying to game plan amidst all the distractions. “It’s a nice little challenge and you add this on top of it and you have your hands full.”

To say the Huskies didn’t light up the scoreboard isn’t entirely true. They kept a lighted zero burning strong until the final minutes against the Irish when they scored a meaningless touchdown against Notre Dame’s scrubs. But if Washington couldn’t manage a single drive past its own 44-yard line until midway through the fourth quarter, and could muster only four first downs until that final throw-away drive, what fate awaits the Huskies against USC?

The Trojans come into this game ranked first nationally in total defense (allowing 215.6 yards per game), pass efficiency defense and scoring defense. By given up 10 points to Arizona last weekend, the Trojans actually saw their opponent’s scoring average go up to 8.14 points per game.

“At this point we’re as good as any team we’ve had in the past,” USC coach Pete Carroll said of his defense. “We’re not getting as many turnovers as we’d like, but all in all, the defense is playing really, really good football.”

And when a Pete Carroll-coached USC team is doing anything as good as any team he’s had in the past, it can’t bode well for Trojan opponents.

The Trojans had one off day this year — one that may very well cost them a chance to play for a national title — when Oregon State dominated the first half on the way to a 27-21 win in Corvallis. In that game, OSU freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers danced and dashed his way through an All-American-filled defense for 186 yards.

Aside from a shocking 27-21 loss to Oregon State, the Trojans have not allowed more than 10 points this season; have shut out both Arizona State and Washington State; and have not allowed another opponent to gain more than 239 yards.

“We’ve got a challenge we’ve got to work out against these guys,” Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said. “They’re stingy on the run. They’re stingy on the pass. Oregon State (angered them) and they’re playing with a little bit more urgency than when you watched them earlier in the season. They’re kind of on a mission right now defensively.”

Washington’s offensive performance last week was particularly discouraging, given that the Huskies seemed to be making progress in the previous game. Against Oregon State, the Huskies had their first 100-yard rusher, Terrance Dailey, and 100-yard receiver, D’Andre Goodwin, of the season. Then against Notre Dame, Washington barely moved the ball for three and a half quarters and punted on nine straight possessions.

“That was disappointing because I think we took a big step back after taking a huge step forward against Oregon State,” Lappano said.

Today doesn’t exactly offer an easy way to fix that offense.

The Huskies do have a couple of things that could work in their favor. First, there is the notion that Washington could come out today and give an inspired effort for Willingham. For an 0-7 team looking for ways to trudge forward this season, any new form of motivation could be beneficial.

“It doesn’t affect us at all, but I think it’s going to affect them considerably,” Carroll said when asked about Willingham’s impending departure. “I think their players that have been recruited by coach (Willingham) and all of that, they’re going to give everything they’ve got and it will probably be a very emotional expression of their concern about his feelings and everything. We’re probably going to get a heck of an effort from these guys.”

The other thing Washington has going for it is a bit of recent history playing well against USC. In 2006 in L.A, the Huskies lost by six points as time ran out before they could get off a final play. Last season, the top-ranked Trojans won by only three points in Seattle.

“We can play with anybody,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “The last two years have shown that we can play with SC, it’s just time to show it on Saturday.”

Added defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim: “It’s not like they’re a bunch of supermen out there.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more on UW sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com /huskiesblog

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