USC Football Beats Washington 24-14: Three Likes And Dislikes
It wasn't pretty, but USC managed to escape Seattle's CenturyLink Field with a 24-14 win Saturday night over the Washington Huskies.
The 11th-ranked Trojans relied on a strong running game and an opportunistic defense to come away with the win.
As an ode to Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer (since we are in his neck of the woods), we are gonna look at three "likes" and three "dislikes" from USC's victory.
Late in the game, Washington was in a position to narrow its deficit but USC's D tightened down, first causing a Keith Price fumble inside the Trojans' own 5-yard line which safety Jawanza Starling recovered. The Huskies managed to get the ball back, but Josh Shaw was able to intercept a tipped pass by Price. On the night, the defense had five sacks, nine tackles for loss and three takeaways, all while allowing just 14 points.
Lane Kiffin seemed to be impressed by the performance.
"Phenomenal job by our defense, especially in the fourth quarter," Kiffin said. "If you've been covering us over the last three years, that’s been our issue, fourth quarter defense.
"I thought our defense was really getting after the quarterback, and you know they were pretty beat up on their offense," Kiffin continued. "Every game is not going to be like that and we will have to score more."
Safety Jawanza Starling seemed to think the reason for the Trojans' emergence on defense is familiarity.
"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," Starling said.
2. The running game. It's funny to think about now, but there was a point this summer, and even early this season, where USC's running game was thought to be the Achilles' Heel of the team. Against Washington, USC ran for 227 yards, 155 of which came from Penn State transfer Silas Redd. On a night when USC's passing attack was virtually grounded, the ground-game came up huge. Redd (who also had a touchdown) talked about how Kiffin reminds the team, "to win on the road you have to bring a running game and special teams." USC did just that.
3. Winning in a hostile environment. All week Kiffin talked about the crowd noise the Trojans would have to battle at CenturyLink Field, and the 66,202 in attendance lived up to the hype. It was a raucous atmosphere, particularly in the second half as the Huskies held USC's offense in check. It will be an experience the Trojans may need to rely on again down the road as they travel to Tucson in two weeks to take on Arizona, as well as possibly playing in the Pac-12 Championship game as a visitor. Lane Kiffin seemed pleased.
"I think anytime you go on the road and you come into what it seemed like a sold-out environment like this, it's a very hard place to play," Kiffin said. "Obviously the Seahawks have success over here, Washington has been undefeated here... because they have great fans, so it was good."
UW held the Trojans scoreless in the 2nd half. It certainly is going to take much more than that if USC hopes to compete with Oregon in the Pac-12, let alone climb back in the BCS title picture. But Kiffin didn't have much of a problem with it.
"I continue to remind myself that there is one goal and that’s to win the game," Kiffin said. "Are the numbers what were are used to? No, but we won. And remember two times ago we went on the road and we weren't sitting here with a win," Kiffin said.
2. Disappearance of the passing game. Credit has to go to Washington's defense at some point, but USC is supposed to be better than this. It's got award candidates all over the depth chart, and they were relative non-factors against the Huskies.
UW held receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to just seven catches combined -- their lowest total ever -- and kept the Trojans to just 2-of-12 on 3rd down. QB Matt Barkley finished just 10-for-20 (50 percent) for 167 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Not his best day by any means. Kiffin claimed it was by design, but the quiet night through the air had many wondering if Barkley was even healthy.
"No, he's fine. That was simply just playing to win," Kiffin said. "I wanted to sit here in this press conference at 5-1, not 4-2, and we did that. So in those situations, why go back and get him hit again... Play to our defense and go home."
In fairness, later in the game USC finally pulled the trigger and moved Florida transfer Josh Shaw from safety to corner, a position he seemed to transition into with ease. It's noteworthy that Shaw's interception of Price came when he was lined up at corner.
It would be hard to predict if Harris makes that same play, but the fact remains USC may have found an answer. The question is whether or not Kiffin will stick with it, as he has been hesitant to move Shaw there.