The Washington Huskies tried to give USC the game, they really did.
Sure, the Huskies did enough to come away with the 17-12 victory. They controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, managed to scrape together 300 yards of offense and pulled off the usual Chris Petersen trick play early in the third quarter to help jump out to their first lead of the game.
But in the end, this game was on a platter for the Trojans to take, and they just couldn’t do it. Call it being off, call it being out of sync, call it a series of questionable play calls when it came to running the football; this was definitely a missed opportunity for USC.
The first example came in the opening quarter. Twice the Huskies started drives inside the USC 35-yard line thanks to a pair of Cody Kessler picks, but no points came from those turnovers. All four Washington drives in the first quarter ended inside the USC 35, yet they came away with only three points.
The Huskies started true freshman quarterback Jake Browning, who is normally known for his accuracy, yet he missed multiple open receivers in the early going that could have given Washington a chance at a comfortable lead.
The Washington defense came into the game ranked atop the Pac-12 conference in rushing defense yet played a scheme with two deep safeties that seemed to invite the Trojans to run the ball. USC tailback Tre Madden had success early with 96 yards on 11 carries in the first half, yet he carried the ball only six times for 24 yards in the second half. But the true story of the night for the Trojans’ run game was the seeming lack of patience in sticking with it.
Perhaps it was the fact that the passing game struggles were magnified with Kessler having a rare off night, or with the absence of senior center Max Tuerk in the middle of the line due to a knee injury, but it just seemed as if every time the Trojans needed to commit to the run, they went away from it.
There was no better example of that than with 13:00 remaining in the game when the Trojans were given a gift with a personal foul and targeting penalty on leading Washington defender Azeem Victor for his hit on Kessler. Suddenly the Trojans had the ball on the Huskies' side of the field and three straight run plays to freshman Ronald Jones put the ball in the end zone. USC was down only 17-12.
The Coliseum crowd was alive, and the defense forced a three-and-out deep in Washington territory before a punt gave the Trojans the ball on their own 32. At that point, down five points with fewer than 10 minutes to go and fresh off success running the ball, the Trojans chose to throw the ball three straight times. Two were incomplete, one went for four yards, and they had to punt. And as for Jones, who had just given his team a chance, he didn’t get a chance to touch the ball on the series because he wasn’t in the game.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian said in his postgame news conference that it was one of those nights where he didn’t coach well enough and his players didn’t play well enough to win the game. He’s right about that. The only problem is that even though the Trojans didn’t play well enough to win, a victory was still there for the taking, and those kind of losses are tough to explain.