SEATTLE — What began Saturday night as a likely blowout entering halftime evolved into a fourth-quarter barnburner before a sold-out CenturyLink Field crowd. No. 11 USC, however, escaped with a 24-14 victory on the strength of junior running back Silas Redd’s 26 carries for 155 yards.
“Any time you go on the road and you come into what seemed like a sold-out environment, it’s a very hard place to play,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Obviously, the Seahawks have success over here; Washington has been undefeated here. I think they have won eight of nine in general at home, because they have great fans.”
On USC’s first offensive play, Redd established the ground game, originally running to his left where he found no daylight, then exhibiting great patience and reversing field on his way to a 57-yard gain. But the Trojans (5-1, 3-1) were unable to capitalize on a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line and settled for a 23-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Andre Heidari.
“It was designed to the left, but it was kind of plugged up,” Redd said of the play. “I saw an opening to the right and I took it.”
After limiting Washington to a three-and-out on its first defensive series, USC forced a turnover on the second, with sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey snaring his fourth interception of the season on a short crossing route, setting the Trojans up at the Huskies’ 36-yard line.
USC capitalized on the Washington miscue, as Redd punched in an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Trojans a 10-0 lead.
“Our defense was really getting after the quarterback, and you know they were pretty beat up on their offense,” Kiffin said. “Every game is not going to be like that and we will need to score more.”
With 7:15 remaining in the first quarter, USC squandered an opportunity to expand its 10-point lead, as senior quarterback Matt Barkley threw his sixth interception of the season at midfield.
Barkley, who finished 10 for 20 with 167 yards, never seemed to find his rhythm, especially in a second half in which he completed just three of 10 passes.
“They didn’t want to get beat over the top, and the threats that we have with Marqise and Robert, and so they played very deep and played a lot of two-high defenses and just kind of forced us to run the ball, and we ran the ball very well,” Barkley said of his uncharacteristically low number of passing attempts.
Washington proceeded to drive the ball 58 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kasen Williams, on which Washington’s leading receiver exploited his considerable height advantage over junior cornerback Nickell Robey. But outside this touchdown connection, Robey largely limited Williams in their one-on-one matchups, allowing only one other reception for five yards.
To begin the second quarter, sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee converted a third-and-five with a 24-yard reception on the first pass thrown his way. Later in the drive, Barkley threw a 16-yard dart through double-coverage to sophomore tight end Xavier Grimble for a touchdown.
Before time expired in the half, sophomore cornerback Anthony Brown blocked a punt on Washington’s 21-yard line, recovered it and rumbled into the end zone for the back-breaking score, which gave USC a 24-7 lead entering halftime. The play came from an unlikely source, as Brown has been relegated to fourth-string cornerback after beginning the season as the starter opposite Robey.
“We did a great job at getting turnovers the whole game, and we needed to get the offense the ball,” Robey said. “That’s championship ‘D’ right there.”
On the Trojans’ second possession of the third quarter, Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant blocked Heidari’s 41-yard field goal attempt, beating USC’s line off the right edge. Trufant also played stellar lockdown defense on Lee for most of the night, limiting USC’s speedster to two catches for 32 yards.
Washington rode the momentum of the clutch special teams play, scoring a touchdown on its subsequent possession with a 29-yard touchdown strike to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With the completion, quarterback Keith Price punctuated a streak in which he completed 15 consecutive passes after starting the game with three straight incompletions.
“It’s just the little things that you saw last week — just with the penalties and [the lack of discipline],” Barkley responded when asked about why USC couldn’t cushion its lead in the second half. “If we play undisciplined, we’re not going to have a blowout game.”
The Huskies relinquished their budding momentum on their next offensive possession, however, as Price fumbled on USC’s three-yard line, after USC senior safety Jawanza Starling leveled a vicious hit on the quarterback. Starling also recovered the football.
“It’s a testament to how we have been practicing,” Starling said of the four turnovers USC’s defense forced in the contest. “It is just a more experienced defense than a couple of years ago and we have been in the system for a while and the guys know what they are supposed to do.”
USC would claim two more turnovers in the waning moments, with sophomore cornerback Josh Shaw nabbing his second interception of the season on a tipped pass and freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams recovering a fumble with three minutes remaining.
The road-weary Trojans return home to the Coliseum this Saturday against Colorado for a 3 p.m. game.
“We are glad to get out of here [with the win],” Kiffin said. “It’s been a long first half of the season, four road games out of six; we’re back in L.A. for five of the next six, and we’ll load up and get back.”