After defeating four mostly faceless opponents, USC will go up against a marquee player Saturday when Washington quarterback Jake Locker visits the Coliseum.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin said Sunday night that Locker was the best player USC will have faced this season and that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior was worthy of projections as the possible No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Locker struggled mightily in his last game, a 56-21 defeat by Nebraska on Sept. 18. He completed four of 20 passes with a touchdown and two interceptions.
But Kiffin was unwavering.
“One game is never going to define a player,” he said.
USC glimpsed Locker’s potential last season when he engineered a game-winning fourth-quarter drive in the Huskies’ 16-13 victory over the Trojans at Seattle.
Locker pondered making himself available for the 2010 draft but returned for a final season under Coach Steve Sarkisian, who oversaw USC’s offense with Kiffin in 2005-2006.
Kiffin downplayed the significance of coaching against Sarkisian.
“This game isn’t about myself or him,” Kiffin said.
It could be about Locker if he gets on track.
Locker has completed 51% of his attempts and has passed for six touchdowns, with two passes intercepted. He also has rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns for a team that sandwiched a victory over Syracuse between losses to Brigham Young and Nebraska.
On the line
USC could be handicapped against the Huskies if defensive end Wes Horton is unable to play because of an injury suffered Saturday. Horton, who had a sack and also blocked a punt, was accidentally kicked in the back by Trojans end Nick Perry.
Kiffin declined to specify Horton’s injury.
Horton’s absence would further weaken a line that was without tackle Armond Armstead against Washington State.
Armstead, held out because of a shoulder injury, is expected to return Saturday, but Perry is not at full strength because of lingering soreness from an ankle injury suffered during training camp.
“I just want to get back at them so bad,” Horton said Saturday of Washington. “It was an embarrassing loss last year — it was game that we should have won.”
The Pacific 10 Conference is deeper than it was during his first stint at USC, Kiffin said.
Kiffin also made the latest in what has become a series of veiled digs about the previous staff’s recruiting efforts.
“We don’t have as many star players as we did before and so they’re playing at those other places,” he said. “It’s evened out and it’s our goal to change it back to what it was before.”
Without prompting, Kiffin even complimented UCLA. “Who would have thought UCLA would be able to go into Texas and not just win, but it sounds like they physically dominated them,” Kiffin said.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley has passed for 12 touchdowns, the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and is ranked 14th nationally in passing efficiency Kiffin said senior center Kristofer O’Dowd and the offensive line played their best games of the season against Washington State. The Trojans rushed for 285 yards and two touchdowns and Barkley was not sacked USC will resume practice Tuesday.