On a day when major upsets littered the college football landscape, the table seemed set for the biggest of all Saturday night at Husky Stadium. It didn’t happen, however, because while No. 1 Southern California shot itself in the foot regularly, the Washington Huskies took advantage only occasionally.
The Trojans committed 16 penalties that cost them 161 yards, threw two interceptions – including one Mesphin Forrester returned 54 yards for a touchdown – lost one fumble, suffered a blocked punt and still emerged with a 27-24 victory and a perfect record.
“From my vantage point, I think it was a good football game,” UW coach Tyrone Willingham said. “I thought there were mistakes by both teams. I thought that we did not overcome some of the ones that we made.
“I am proud of our football team; but saying that, I do not take any solace in the fact that we came close but did not win.”
Errors aside, the Trojans (4-0, 2-0) dominated. They won in rushing yards, 224-100; passing yards, 236-90; and total yards, 460-190. They had two tailbacks run for over 100 yards – Stafon Johnson for 122 and Chauncey Washington for 106 – while UW’s Louis Rankin was held to 39 yards, his fourth straight game with fewer than 50.
USC quarterback John David Booty completed 20 of 37 passes, while UW’s Jake Locker completed 13 of 28.
Despite all that, life flickered for the Huskies (2-3, 0-2 Pacific 10 Conference) deep into the fourth quarter.
They trailed 24-17 with about seven minutes remaining when the UW defense forced a USC punt. However, Anthony Russo fumbled the return and the Trojans recovered.
They then moved down to the UW 16, when cornerback Byron Davenport seemed to give the Huskies another chance with an apparent interception in the end zone.
However, a replay showed that the ball had hit the turf, and possession was returned to USC (4-0, 2-0), which went on to add a 33-yard field goal that lifted its advantage to 27-17.
Washington drew seven points closer with just over a minute remaining, when Roy Lewis blocked a punt, recovered and returned the ball to the USC 9. Three plays later, the Huskies scored on a Locker sneak, and USC’s advantage shrunk to three points.
However, the Trojans dodged the final bullet by cleanly handling the onside kick attempt and running out the clock.
“We just couldn’t do more things wrong in the game,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “I think there was close to 200 yards in penalties. We turned the ball over three times. We just couldn’t get out of our own way.
“I think it’s a classic game when you really mess it up and give up a night. Washington was there to take it, all they needed was one more chance. … We can’t play like that the rest of the season or else we’ll lose like a normal team.”
Several other ranked teams went down Saturday: No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Florida, No. 7 Texas, No. 10 Rutgers, No. 13 Clemson, No. 21 Penn State and No. 22 Alabama.
Somehow, Southern California managed to walk to the edge, yet avoid the trap.
And they did so despite losing 40 percent of their starting offensive line on a single play in the first quarter as center Kristofer O’Dowd and guard Chilo Rachal both went down with knee sprains and did not return.
Soon enough, the switch at center showed up on the scoreboard, as the Trojans blew a snap, and UW’s Erick Lobos recovered at the USC 14.
Two plays later, Locker scampered in from the 10. The extra point gave Washington a 7-0 lead.
However, that proved to be the Huskies only lead of the night, as the Trojans quickly pulled even and eventually took a 17-14 lead into halftime.
From there, they did just enough to avoid the upset on a day that was full of them.
“It was frustrating because we know what we’re capable of doing at times, we just don’t execute, we just don’t play to our full potential,” Lewis said. “And that’s hard, especially when you’ve got a team on the ropes and we’ve got some momentum going and all we’ve got to do is turn that corner and something happens, always something happens.”