Fink gets turn to start as No. 21 USC faces No. 17 Huskies
Even he finds it a little shocking to be sitting in his current position, about to make his first start Saturday at No. 17 Washington after coming off the bench to engineer an upset of Utah a week ago.
“It’s kind of surreal. It’s an amazing opportunity for me and for the team to keep moving forward,” Fink said. “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.”
The Trojans (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) already lost J.T. Daniels for the season due to a knee injury. Kedon Slovis is expected to miss Saturday’s matchup with the Huskies after suffering a concussion on the opening possession against the Utes. Fink is the only healthy scholarship quarterback on USC’s roster as it makes the trip north, and with his first start comes the chance to prove what he showed last week against Utah wasn’t a fluke.
Fink threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. He got plenty of help from his wide receivers, Michael Pittman Jr. in particular, but it was Fink at the helm.
“That’s just football, and guys go down, and then other guys step up. Matt played great, and we beat the No. 10 team, so that was great,” Pittman said. “I didn’t feel like we had to step up more as receivers. I felt like we just had to go out there and do what we do every day.”
Washington (3-1, 0-1) has rebounded from its loss to California in Week 2, thumping Hawaii before a convincing 45-19 win at BYU last week. Jacob Eason demonstrated his improving mastery of Washington’s offense, throwing for 290 yards and completing 24 of 28 passes for a career-best 85.7 completion percentage.
Along with Eason’s performance, Washington’s pass catchers seem to have addressed the drops that became a major factor in the loss to Cal.
“I think there was good progress there. Probably collectively as a group, the quarterback to the wide outs, I thought those guys caught the ball well. Obviously, Jacob threw it in there pretty well,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Other things to watch when the Trojans and Huskies meet for the first time since the 2016 season:
While several USC wide receivers had big games against Utah, no one was more difficult to stop than Pittman. He finished with 10 catches for 232 yards and a 77-yard touchdown. The 10 catches were a career high and he has 19 in the past two games combined. But the Trojans pass game has yet to face a secondary with the talent of Washington’s. The Huskies have four interceptions in the past two games and have allowed one pass play of more than 28 yards all season.
“We’re just doing us. We haven’t really put in any special plays for Washington. We’re just going to go out there and do whatever we do,” Pittman said.
Aaron Fuller is coming off one of the best all-around games of his career. Washington’s leading pass catcher had eight catches for a season-high 91 yards and a touchdown against BYU. He also took a punt back 88 yards for a score. Fuller has 21 receptions and is one of three Washington pass catchers with more than 200 yards receiving.
Fuller could be in line for another big game. USC allowed a season-high 299 yards passing in its loss to BYU.
Washington has spread the wealth among its running backs. Salvon Ahmed was the primary ball carrier the first three weeks before missing last week with a leg injury. Sean McGrew filled in and rushed for a career-high 110 yards. Richard Newton has also found a key role in short-yardage and red zone situations. Newton already has five rushing touchdowns. The balance of running backs will be important facing a USC defense that’s giving up 170.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.3 yards per rush.
The Trojans’ loss at BYU two weeks ago continued the team’s troubles on the road. USC has lost five of its past seven road games over the past two seasons. The Trojans haven’t beaten a ranked team on the road since Nov. 12, 2016, when they defeated then-No. 4 Washington 26-13 in Seattle.