PULLMAN, Wash. -- USC has grown accustomed to quarterback Sam Darnold finding ways to win.
In the Rose Bowl last year, he led a comeback from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Against Texas two weeks ago, he had just 45 seconds to engineer a game-tying field goal drive and did. The list goes on.
So when the Trojans were down 30-27 Friday night and got the ball with a minute and 40 seconds left against Washington State, there was reason to be confident.
"I thought it was automatic points," USC safety Chris Hawkins said.
This time, with the Palouse rocking, things were different.
After an incompletion on first down, Darnold lined up in the shotgun at the USC 25-yard line with three receivers to his right. WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch dialed up a middle linebacker blitz that sent Jahad Woods between the center and a true freshman right guard who was in the game as a result of three injuries.
Woods, all 6-foot, 200 pounds of him, came through untouched and in about two seconds was on Darnold's back. The ball popped free and WSU linebacker Derek Moore dove on it. Two kneel-downs later, the Cougars celebrated one of the biggest wins in program history.
It was indicative of the way the Cougars played all game, winning as much with defense as their prolific offense. The Cougars held Darnold to 189 total yards, the lowest number of passing yards in any game he has started. Darnold finished with an interception and a 37.6 QBR. WSU's defense also stood tall late in the third quarter when it held USC to a field goal despite starting the drive on the Washington State 27-yard line.
In all, Washington State held USC to just 327 total yards and 2-of-11 on third downs.
For Woods, the game-sealing play was pretty simple.
"Open hole," Woods said. "Early in the first quarter, I actually got the same play and I missed and he scrambled for a first down. It was huge. So I made sure I made up for it.
"[Darnold] is more elusive than you think. I didn't know he was that elusive until we actually got on the field. You watch film and you see him moving, but it's a different story when you're on the field."
Woods, a redshirt freshman, is in the starting lineup only because of a serious injury to Peyton Pelluer, and Woods' physical attributes can also be deceiving until you see them up close, according to WSU coach Mike Leach.
"He's always drilled people in a fashion that surprises you," Leach said. "Because he sort of looks kind of like everybody else, linebacker type of guy. Some people can just generate a great deal of power, and he's one of them. And then then the other thing, he's done a good job stepping in and playing early doing a good job. It really hasn't fazed him much. He's real steady for a young guy, I think."
In a game as close as Friday's, several plays could have swung the game in either direction, but it was Woods' forced fumble that stood apart.