Senior wide receiver Jaydon Mickens has waited his entire college career to play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
On Thursday night in a primetime matchup against his former coach, the Los Angeles native will finally get his chance.
The Washington football team attempts to rebound from its loss to California to open Pac-12 play when it takes on No. 17 USC at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
“You can say it’s a big deal,” Mickens said. “Especially for people who’ve never seen you play live or anything like that. For it to be USC, and if you’re from California, you wanted to go to USC. You could be a Cal fan, but you wanted to go to USC at some point in your life.”
Mickens, who said he will have around 80 family members and friends at the game, committed to the Trojans as a junior at Dorsey High School, located about 10 minutes from the USC campus. Just like most football players growing up in Southern California, Mickens said it was always his dream to play at USC but when it came time to sign his letter of intent, the Trojans weren’t the right fit.
After a disappointing performance in the 30-24 loss to California on Sept. 26, Mickens and the rest of the UW offense will try to rebound against the Trojans on Thursday.
The Huskies turned the ball over five times and recorded just 259 yards of total offense against the Golden Bears. Freshman quarterback Jake Browning threw for just 152 yards, two interceptions, and fumbled once against Cal.
In the UW’s two losses this season, Browning has failed to throw a touchdown and has turned the ball over four times, throwing for a combined 302 yards. In the UW’s two wins, against Sacramento State and Utah State, Browning threw for 326 and 368 yards, respectively.
Redshirt junior running back Dwayne Washington was the lone bright spot on offense against the Golden Bears, cracking the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. Washington scored the UW’s first touchdown in the first quarter, and finished with 109 yards rushing, but carried the ball just 10 times with the UW trailing for most of the final three quarters.
Thursday’s game will mark the first time the Huskies have faced USC head coach Steve Sarkisian since he left the UW following the 2013 season. Sarkisian was an assistant at USC from 2005-08 before taking the head coaching job at the UW following the team’s 0-12 season in 2008. In five seasons as head coach of the Huskies, Sarkisian led the Huskies to four bowl games.
While the UW’s first matchup against Sarkisian is the main storyline surrounding Thursday’s game, Petersen said the hype surrounding the matchup, much like his return to Boise State in the season opener, will fade once the game begins.
“When you go out there and play it’s about blocking and tackling and catching, that’s what it is,” head coach Chris Petersen said. “It has nothing to do with all that other stuff. I think a lot of times if there’s stuff made out of it, it’s pregame hype that doesn’t really have a whole heck of a lot to do once the game is played.”
The Trojans feature some of the Pac-12’s best playmakers in sophomores Adoree Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Jackson has played cornerback, wide receiver, and returned punts and kicks for the Trojans this season.
“Our guys need to be aware when [Jackson] is in the game,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “Because when he is in the game, he is in there for a reason. He is very dynamic with it, but at the same time, they will put him in and use him as a decoy too and set up some other things.”
Smith-Schuster leads the team in receiving with 27 catches for 537 yards and six touchdowns. Smith-Schuster and Jackson combined for eight catches, 234 yards, and three touchdowns in USC’s last game, a 42-14 victory against Arizona State on Sept. 26.
The player getting the ball to Smith-Schuster and Jackson, redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler, is first in the Pac-12 with a 73 percent completion rate and is tied with California quarterback Jared Goff for the conference lead in touchdown passes with 15. In the Trojans’ last game against Arizona State, Kessler threw five touchdown passes.
“I think [USC] is definitely one of the elite teams in our conference without question,” Petersen said. “I always chuckle at the rankings and the ratings this early. I know this team is completely underrated in terms of rankings.”
The Huskies and Trojans haven’t met since a 24-14 USC victory at CenturyLink field in 2012. The Trojans hold a 51-28-4 all-time advantage in the series, which began in 1923.
Reach Sports Editor Erik Erickson at email@example.com. Twitter: @Erik_Erickson