SEATTLE — After making the long walk down a hallway to the visiting locker room, Pete Carroll spoke softly and contritely to the waiting throng of media.
Even the eternal optimist of the coaching world couldn’t find a silver lining after his team’s latest disappointment.
“We’re not real good right now,” Carroll said. “We weren’t real good last week, either.”
A similar sense of doubt lingered in the Trojans’ locker room following its last-minute 16-13 loss to unranked Washington (2-1, 1-0 Pac-10) at Husky Stadium on Saturday. One week after engineering a fourth-quarter drive to push ahead of Ohio State, No. 3 USC (2-1, 0-1) found itself on the other end of a heroic rally.
Erik Folk kicked a 22-yard field goal for the Huskies with three seconds left, putting Washington on top and securing the team’s first Pac-10 win in more than a year.
Sensing an impending witch hunt, Carroll quickly pre-empted the blame game by taking full responsibility for the loss.
“When you play football like this, your chances of winning are so difficult,” Carroll said. “It goes right to me … I’m not doing a good enough job of making the points of how we win.”
Despite gaining more total yards than Washington, USC’s offense floundered on the heels of three turnovers, all of which came inside the Huskies’ 30-yard line. The Trojans also committed eight penalties for 75 yards and went 0-for-10 on third-down conversions.
“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that that has not left us,” Carroll said of the recurring penalties. “That needs to get out.”
Aaron Corp, making his first career start in place of the injured Matt Barkley, struggled to find his rhythm within the USC offense. The redshirt sophomore finished with 110 yards on 13-of-22 passing with an interception.
Although Corp was able to connect with a few of his early targets on short passes, Saturday afternoon was filled mostly with regret for the signal-caller.
“I wish I had some stuff back,” Corp said. “I didn’t play well by my standards.”
The final three quarters were a sharp fall off from the Trojans’ hot start. Running back Joe McKnight scored a touchdown on USC’s opening drive and the Trojans’ offensive line opened huge holes that helped spark a slew of long runs.
“Early on in that game, you would have thought we were going to get beat 50 to nothing,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. “They were running the ball up and down the field.”
With the game tied in the fourth quarter, Carroll instructed Barkley to warm up so that he could once again test his right throwing shoulder, which had been limiting him all week because of a bone bruise. But the true freshman, who started USC’s first two contests, was unable to shake off the pain and watched Corp play the last quarter.
USC’s offense showed late signs of life when a 29-yard punt return by receiver Damian Williams and a 34-yard run by McKnight set up the Trojans deep in Husky territory. But USC had to settle for another short field goal from Jordan Congdon, tying the game and putting the ball back in the hands of Washington quarterback Jake Locker with four minutes left.
Locker was a perfect 4-of-4 passing on the deciding drive and threw a 21-yard dart to Jermaine Kearse for a first down on 3rd-and-15. Another key catch by Kearse and a roughing the passer penalty by defensive tackle Averell Spicer gave Washington the ball at the USC 8-yard line, putting the ball well within range of the Huskies’ kicker.
The loss was a bitter reminder of last year for USC players and fans alike. Coming off a landmark win against Ohio State in 2008, the Trojans dropped their Pac-10 opener to Oregon State on the road in stunning fashion.
“We didn’t rise to the occasion,” Williams said. “We’ve been here before, it happened the exact same game last year — different opponent, same situation, same game.”
USC once again finds itself in a 0-1 hole in the Pac-10 race. The emotional weight of the loss would be tough, Carroll said, but the team has no choice but to move forward if it hopes to keep alive its chances at another Pac-10 title.
“This game is dead and gone already. It’s what we do about it that’s important,” Carroll said. “We have to play better football or we’ll be struggling all year long.”