USC and Washington have shared some exciting moments over the years, but none more so than when they met in 1995 in Seattle. Both teams were vying for a Rose Bowl bid, and a loss for either team would vault the other into position to make that postseason appearance. Washington came out hot, quickly going up 21-0 on USC and remaining that way going into the fourth quarter. The Trojans had to decide right then if they were going to put up or shut up, and their decision led to one of the greatest comebacks of all time in USC school history.
USC had gotten crushed by Notre Dame 38-10 in the week leading up to this matchup with the Huskies, so playing on the road against another hot team with its riled up fan base was the exact opposite of what the doctor ordered. By halftime the Huskies had gone up 13-0, and the Trojans were playing just God-awful football. USC had run just 17 plays for 66 yards, and 53 of those were on four receptions by Keyshawn Johnson, and rushed for a whopping 10 whole yards. Washington on the other than hand had run 44 plays for 288 yards.
Things did not look good at all for USC.
Then-head coach John Robinson was not happy with his squad’s performance, and in the locker room, he let them have all of it. The 60-year old coach unleashed a tirade the likes of which we have not seen from a USC head coach in a long time, lightning a fire under his team’s butt so hot they had no choice but go out there and make something happen.
To the LATimes after the game, senior center Jeremy Hogue said, “Coach was mad, he was yelling at us. He said a lot of stuff about our character. He said he was tired of watching us stand around, watching things happen instead of fighting back and making things happen.
“That was as angry as I’ve ever seen him.”
To say it worked is an understatement: the Trojans scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, tying the game and keeping the Trojans one leg ahead of the other teams in the race to Pasadena.
What, besides the invigorating halftime tantrum, turned this team around? A play called “Chicago”.
Robinson and his offensive coordinator, Mike Riley, had been operating under a two-quarterback system for the previous eight games, having Brad Otton play the first and third quarters while Kyle Wachholtz played the second and fourth. This time, they elected to keep Otton in for the fourth quarter after having established a rhythm in the third, driving down the field 57 yards in nine plays. A one-yard score by Rodney Sermons on the first play of the fourth quarter culminated the drive, getting the Trojans on the board for the first time, 21-7. Otton threw an interception on the next Trojan possession and things looked bad again, but he turned it around and made it 21-14 with a 16-yard touchdown pass to fullback Terry Barnum, capping a 10-play drive.
The Trojan defense was fired up too, surrendering only 10 yards to Washington on their following drive. With 2:18 left, Otton found himself in a Go-Hard-Or-Go-Home state.
And hard is exactly how he went.
Otton led his troops on a 13 play, 79-yard game-tying drive. For the first time all night, the home Husky crowd was shocked into dead silence. With 33 seconds to go, the Trojans ran “Chicago” and it worked exactly as it’s intended. As Fullback Barnum said, “We run Chicago when we think the other team will bring everyone at the quarterback, and they did.”
When Otton handed off the ball the defense blew right past him, so he took the ball from the Husky 30 to the five-yard line. Three plays later, Otton found tight end Johnny McWilliams from three yards out for the touchdown, bringing the game to 21-20. The Trojans could go for the win or the tie, but it was a no-brainer to just kick the extra point for the draw.
Back then, a points formula determined which Pac-10 team would represent in the Rose Bowl: four points for conference victories, three points for nonconference victories and two points for Pac-10 ties. A loss was worthless.
USC was 4-0-1 in the Pac-10, 6-1-1 overall, while The Huskies were 4-0-1 and 5-2-1 overall.
Instead of chancing it, walk-on freshman kicker Adam Rendon took the field for the game-tying extra-point, and he nailed it.
USC had just pulled off one of their greatest comebacks ever, in front of 74,421 people, the then-largest home crowd in Husky history. The deafening roar that gave the Trojans much difficulty in the early stages of the game was absolutely dead at the end of the fourth quarter. This win kept USC in the Rose Bowl race, where they would eventually play and win 41-32 against No. 3 Northwestern.
The best thing about the victory though comes from the recap of this game by Earl Gutsky in the LATimes, where he noted something very interesting:
:It wasn’t a victory, but to everyone in a joyous Trojan locker room afterward, the 21-21 tie with Washington might just as well have been a 50-0 victory.”
A 50-0 victory. Huh. Lane Kiffin and his boys would know all about that feeling, then.
Speaking of Kiffin, his team is likely to face a just as hostile environment this time around, complete with miserable weather and a loud home crowd at CenturyLink field. If they find themselves in a bind, channeling the energy of the ’95 squad and getting it done should be just what they need to silence the Husky crowd once again.