The story: USC is once again stunned in its Pac-10 opener in the Pacific Northwest, this time falling to Washington in a 16-13 disappointment for the Trojans in Seattle.
Last season’s 27-21 loss to Oregon State was on the tip of everyone’s tongues throughout the week because of the strikingly similar set-ups between the two games. In the end, the results would also be parallel.
A familiar formula of self-imposed mistakes helped sink the Trojans on Saturday.
“Last year we killed ourselves with penalties and turnovers,” said redshirt junior wide receiver Damian Williams. “This year we killed ourselves with penalties and turnovers.”
USC’s offense rolled downfield throughout the first quarter to the tune of 111 rushing yards. But the Trojans went 0-for-10 on third downs and struggled to establish a passing game.
“We’ve played games below our standard of play before,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “We underachieved here today.”
Key play of the first half: With USC marching into Washington territory and with only 18 seconds before halftime in a tie game, Carroll called for redshirt junior Stanley Havili to carry the ball on a 3rd down and 1 on the Huskies’ 29.
Havili was stuffed for a 3-yard loss, allowing the clock to continue running as the Trojans tried to get their kick team onfield.
But with no timeouts, USC couldn’t make the shift quickly enough. Redshirt senior Jordan Congdon attempted a 47-yard field goal that went through the uprights, but referees ruled that the clock had expired before the kick.
Instead of entering the third quarter with a three-point lead, the Trojans had to kickoff to the Huskies, tied at 10.
“When we didn’t make the first down, we went into hurry-up field goal mode and you need more than 20 seconds to get that done,” Carroll said. “We really had no choice.”
Key play of the second half: In the Huskies’ defining 63-yard drive to end the game, Washington junior quarterback Jake Locker came up with several key plays.
His 21-yard pass on a 3rd down and 15 may have been the most important play of the sequence. But Locker’s most impressive pass was his final one.
With his team at the USC 35-yard-line, Locker scrambled to the right and winged a pass down the sideline to sophomore receiver Jermaine Kearse to the 16-yard line. A roughing the passer penalty to redshirt senior Averell Spicer tacked on an additional eight yards for the Huskies.
Locker received heaps of praise from Carroll, who said the junior quarterback came through in the clutch.
“He didn’t surprise me a bit,” Carroll said. “When he had to have it, he made it.”
Havili’s roller coaster: Stanley Havili tallied 10 touches for 98 yards, but the fullback had an up-and-down day.
His biggest folly was a fumble after a short catch. Havili slipped and tried to keep his footing so he could turn upfield but instead lost the ball when the Trojans were in scoring position.
After the game, Havili was apologetic for his turnover.
“I just tried to do too much,” Havili said.
Quote of the game: “I gotta get a little rubber cord or something on him so I can just pull him back myself.”
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian joked after the game about defensive coordinator coach Nick Holt’s overzealousness on Saturday, but a win probably went a long way toward healing the wound.
Holt, who served as an assistant at USC for the last three years, earned a sideline infraction penalty for Washington when he stepped onto the field of play during one of USC’s third-down attempts. The Trojans fell short of their needed yardage, but the penalty gave them a first down.
USC did not score on the drive, however, allowing Sarkisian to remain lighthearted about the mistake after the game.