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Dawgs get tough test in Trojans

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The Washington Huskies (2-2) travel to Los Angeles for a Thursday night matchup with No. 17 USC at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Can the Dawgs shake off last week's loss to Cal? Can USC keep it rolling?

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

We learned a couple things in Washington's 30-24 loss two weeks ago to the California Golden Bears.

We learned how valuable Budda Baker is in the secondary. We learned that Jake Browning, despite his advanced nature, is still a true freshman. We learned the young offensive line has more work ahead of it.

But we also learned that this Washington team doesn't give up. That's a cliche, I know, but it's true. We had an indication of this team's fight in the opener against Boise State, and it showed again. Husky Stadium began to empty in the third quarter with Cal seemingly in control, and Washington had the ball in the final two minutes with a chance to win, and Browning threw an interception to clinch it for Cal.

So be it. Things happen.

And now the brutal stretch of games begins for Washington. Starting with tonight's Thursday night game at No. 17 USC, Washington hosts Oregon, is at No. 16 Stanford, then hosts Arizona and No. 5 Utah. For all we know about Washington now, we will know exponentially more after these next five games. Will the running game finally get going? Will Browning continue to progress or regress against good defenses? Is Baker ready to play after a week and a half off?

Then there's the whole Steve Sarkisian thing.

Two winters ago when Sarkisian left for USC, I refreshed ESPN.com one last time before I went to class, and the headline that once read, 'Sark interviews for USC job,' changed to 'Sark takes USC job.' I remember being surprised only because he had been adamant (adamant!) he wasn't leaving. Then that headline changed and everything was different. But here's the stat I kept telling people: the last time Washington's coach left voluntarily was when Darryl Royal bailed for Texas after the 1952 season. Washington's next two coaches were Jim Owens (has a statue at Husky Stadium, though controversial) and Don James, who is a legend in Seattle even after his death.

So the precedent is good for Chris Petersen. But precedent doesn't win games or Rose Bowls. And the win the latter Washington has to beat the powers: USC, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA. The Dawgs don't play the Bruins this season, so the first three will have to do.

Starting with USC, Washington is going to have to play the pass better. Goff was 24-of-40 for 342 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Huskies. That could have been more favorable to UW had Baker played, but it's still not terrible from Washington's perspective. But Cody Kessler is just as a good a passer as Goff, so things don't get easier.

Petersen is still mum on Baker's status, but I'd say he plays. He's had an extra week off plus the week he sat out prior to the Cal game. He's crucial to the success of the secondary — and defense as a whole — because he gets guys lined up and he makes the plays in front of him. Those tool are immeasurably valuable for a free safety, especially for a true sophomore free safety.

The real key, I think, is the first quarter. The Dawgs have scored a grand total of ten points in four first quarters this season, but have also allowed just nine first quarter points. So it's not like UW is getting blown away in the first quarter, but they've started slow in each game this season. They can't start slowly against USC. The Trojans like to start fast and get points on the board early, and they're good at it. With weapons like Adoree' Jackson, a three-way player, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kessler has plenty of guys to throw to. If Washington can get some pressure, they'll be better off, as always.

I'm not optimistic. I've written about how young this Washington team is, and in the second year with a first-year quarterback growing pains are still a thing in Seattle. A Thursday night game on the road is a tough ask, but the Dawgs have had a week-and-a-half to prepare, and get another week-and-a-half to prepare for rival Oregon. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.