With each three-and-out forced by their defense, each impressive dash by true freshman tailback Myles Gaskin, each “boooooo” that filled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Washington Huskies looked a little more like the team UW fans expected coach Chris Petersen to construct.
And so Thursday night’s stunning, 17-12 upset victory over 17th-ranked USC – 17-point favorite, preseason-top-10 USC – gives Petersen and his young Huskies the kind of resounding, signature win that eluded them last season.
It was, without question, Petersen’s best game at Washington. And perhaps there is some poetry to be found in the fact that it also doubled as perhaps the most embarrassing loss in the career of USC coach Steve Sarkisian, who left UW in December 2013 after five seasons to coach the Trojans.
It isn’t going so well. USC went 9-4 in Sarkisian’s first season as coach, a mild disappointment, and now sits at 3-2 this year – and 1-2 in Pac-12 play – despite being picked by media in the preseason to win the league title.
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And if not for three blown scoring chances in the first quarter, the Huskies might have run away with this one.
First, Darren Gardenhire’s interception of Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler set the Huskies up with a first down at USC’s 33-yard line on their first possession. They moved it 19 yards before settling for a Cameron Van Winkle field-goal try that hooked wide left.
Washington’s defense forced a three-and-out on USC’s next possession, and after the Trojans punted to midfield, a personal-foul penalty moved UW to the USC 35 to start the drive. Then freshman quarterback Jake Browning missed two open receivers near the end zone – both overthrows, to Joshua Perkins and Dante Pettis – and Browning pooch-punted to USC’s 6.
Penalties thwarted the Trojans after they achieved a pair of first downs, and Kessler again threw a third-down interception, this one to UW cornerback Sidney Jones, the Huskies again in business with a first down at the USC 21-yard line.
And after a holding penalty and a pair of 1-yard rushes by tailback Myles Gaskin, Browning threw an interception to Trojans defensive back Iman Marshall. USC responded by driving 60 yards and kicking a 34-yard field goal, taking a 3-0 lead despite gifting the Huskies three consecutive drives that started inside the USC 35-yard line.
That would be a frustrating sequence against anybody, but it was especially so against the 17th-ranked Trojans, who can be reasonably described as the most talented team in the Pac-12.
Yet they didn’t look it for most of this one, and Washington’s defense had something to do with that. UW’s pass rush bothered Kessler, sacking him several times. Third-year sophomore linebacker Azeem Victor again blurred and bashed his way to a double-digit tackle total. The Huskies forced three turnovers, including a fumble they recovered at USC’s 27-yard line early in the third quarter, which led to Marvin Hall’s receiver pass to tight end Joshua Perkins for a touchdown on the next play.
That gave the Huskies a 10-6 lead – a margin they surely felt should have been larger, but it was a lead nonetheless. And they added to it when Gaskin, who rushed 22 times for 134 yards, scored on a 1-yard run with 14:21 to play in the fourth quarter, giving the Huskies a 17-6 lead.
USC responded with a 6-play, 69-yard touchdown drive capped by Ronald Jones’ 1-yard touchdown run and aided by a 15-yard, personal-foul targeting penalty against Victor, who was ejected and must also serve a one-half suspension next week against Oregon.
After the Trojans’ 2-point conversion attempt failed, UW got the ball back twice, and twice the Huskies were unable to move the chains and maintain possession.
But the Huskies’ defense swelled when it needed to, forcing USC to attempt a 46-yard field goal that missed short with 3:44 to play.
Browning, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 137 yards, made a crucial first-down completion to Los Angeles native Jaydon Mickens on third down on UW’s following possession, and a procession of kneel-downs secured a most improbable victory as the home crowd booed Sarkisian and his defeated Trojans.