Saturday’s USC vs. Washington final score looked like a resounding win for the No. 17 Huskies, but Clay Helton’s Trojans had their chances.
With Matt Fink filling in for Kedon Slovis to make his first-ever start on the road, there was always a chance the USC vs. Washington final score wouldn’t be kind to the Trojans. His interceptions saw that out, despite the defense performing admirably.
The Huskies won 28-14. Let’s talk through it.
The lowdown: The first half featured just three touchdowns, two for Washington and one for USC. All three came on short fields, a sign of what was to come. After UW capitalized on a Matt Fink interception to make it 14-0, the Trojans closed strong with a 12-play touchdown drive of their own, capped with Fink’s second career rushing score.
With the USC offense handcuffed by a the Huskies’ zone defense and several mistakes from a Fink-led attack, Washington could’ve taken a commanding lead by bookending the half with touchdowns. Yet Clancy Pendergast’s defense bent and bent and didn’t break for much of the afternoon. They limited UW to just six points on those two crucial drives, for a 20-7 Washington lead early in the third quarter.
The result of the bending? Opportunities for USC’s offense. That was heightened in the middle of the third quarter, when a 60-yard run by Stephen Carr put the Trojans in prime position to cut it to a one-score game.
It’d be for naught. Fink’s second interception came short the of the goal line while trying to find Michael Pittman in the end zone on a slant. Two plays later, Salvon Ahmed went for the longest run by a Husky in Seattle in 25 years, scoring on an 89-yard run. It was a 14-point swing that broke USC’s back and put them out of reach.
The Trojan defense would continue generate opportunities afterwards, before Graham Harrell’s offense finished the game by squandering four different drives that either started or ended in UW territory. That included twice USC had a 1st-and-goal and didn’t score, along with two Fink interceptions at the 2-yard line.
Washington outlasted the Trojans, 28-14.
The takeaway: What’s there to say really? USC lost a road game in which they were the underdogs against a ranked team. That’s the norm during the Clay Helton Era.
But Saturday afternoon didn’t have to go that way. While they seemed incapable of doing anything for long stretches, that wasn’t always the case. USC had more than enough chances to not only come back against the No. 17 Huskies, but win the football game.
They outgained Washington. They ran more plays. They rushed for 212 yards. They didn’t let Jacob Eason beat them. They had several red zone opportunities.
Much like the 2017 Cotton Bowl, USC lost a not-really-a-blowout when they were kept alive their defense, only to die over and over again on offense. It was a slow bleed-out, via wounds on the offensive line, in coverage and with a third-string quarterback.
Case in point: Washington scored 14 first quarter points on short fields and the Trojans were twice held scoreless despite getting inside the 10-yard line. When you lose by 14, that’s the game right there.
Does JT Daniels or Kedon Slovis make the difference? Maybe. You’d like to say they don’t throw as many interceptions as Fink did, or bail the pocket to make such hasty decisions. Yet Slovis performed similarly at BYU and the offensive line was only productive in spurts, no matter who the quarterback was.
Saturday was just a collective offensive struggle bus, when it didn’t have to be.
Player of the game: Stephen Carr may have had the fewest totes of a Trojan running back on Saturday afternoon, but he earned the most yards. He went 7-for-94, including a 60-yard run in the third quarter.
Next on tap: USC now gets a much-needed bye week, before going on the road again to the play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend.