It doesn't matter whether you hold a grudge against Washington's former coach or not. That wasn't the story. Ironically, two of Steve Sarkisian's three biggest wins at Washington were against USC. This is a matchup Dawg fans were looking forward to ever since he left. But, again that wasn't the story.
The story was Washington's defense. Specifically, the pass defense. Cody Kessler came in as a Heisman candidate. His hopes were dashed with this game. His candidacy was ruined by the Husky defense. His goose was cooked a bunch of sophomores - more on that later. This is the first of many signature wins for Chris Petersen at Washington. This is a dude that we are behind as Husky fans.
Washington started their harassment of Cody Kessler by crunching him between Travis Feeney and Azeem Victor on his first dropback. Victor continued his reign of pain on the next play by stopping running back Tre Madden in his tracks with another hit that could be described with onomatopoeia. Kessler has been on pace to set the single-season efficiency mark for a quarterback before staring down his receiver on a comeback route that Darren Gardnehire intercepted.
The Huskies were able to manage a first down on a well-designed run-after-catch for Jaydon Mickens before stalling in the red zone, followed by a rare Cameron Van Winkle miss. The defense followed up its interception by forcing a three-and-backwards and a punt. Penalties by the Sarkisian-coach Trojans and great defense allowed the Dawgs to get the ball on the 35-yard line of USC. It turned into a pooch punt after three consecutive incompletions, two being just-overthrown deep shots to open receivers.
The story early on wasn't the struggles of the Husky offense, I mean it was a storyline, but the main story was the Washington dominance of Cody Kessler. Gardenhire dropped a chance at a second interception on a pass over the middle but it didn't matter when Sidney Jones jumped in front of a screen on the next play for the second Husky pick of the game. Browning felt bad for Kessler and joined the party, over-leading his receiver and throwing it right into the waiting arms of freshman corner Iman Marshall. It was the first time the Husky defense bent.
The poor tackling for the Dawgs reared its head again, as Madden dragged defenders with him down to the red zone. Washington's stout red zone defense kept the Trojans from the end zone, with an unblocked Keishawn Bierria taking Kessler down on third down, forcing the Trojans to settle for three.
The most successful offensive possession yet for the Huskies followed through the end of the first quarter into the second, with Myles Gaskin picking up a first down on two carries, then two consecutive completions from Browning to Joshua Perkins and Brayden Lenius closed the first period with UW finally finding some offensive rhythm. Gaskin and Perkins pushed the ball down within the USC 10 when we saw a familiar sight of Dwayne Washington hitting the back of his own linemen - even with a yard of push and room to the lineman's hips.
Unfortunately for the Husky offense, it ended up in Trojan territory for the fourth consecutive possession. That meant the drive stalled. At least three points were on the board after Browning misfired on an out to Mickens where the senior receiver created separation. Victor continued tarnishing legacies by dropping running back Justin Davis behind the line of scrimmage for his second tackle for loss. The teams traded punts before USC was able to take the final possession of the half for another six points.
Washington moved the ball again into USC territory on the first possession of the second half but, of course, it stalled and Washington punted on fourth down. Sidney Jones then decided for a second time that he prefers the sideline by forcing a JuJu Smith-Schuester fumble, recovered by Taniela Tupou. That is when Coach Pete reached into his back of tricks with a double pass. Marvin Hall threw the second touchdown pass of his career following a backwards pass from Browning.
The defense kept forcing punts, and the Huskies started to wear on the Trojan defense. The running lanes didn't open up where the plays were designed to go - but that didn't matter. Myles Gaskin had the vision, and more importantly the patience, to find the running lanes that took a while to develop. The Huskies rode his 192 lbs. frame for a touchdown to go up 17-6 over the Pac-12 South favorites. Gaskin finished with 22 carries for 134 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
USC and the men in stripes fought back. A weak targeting call on Victor got him tossed, and he will also have to miss the first half of the Oregon game as well. Knowing how to capitalize on a weakness, running back Ronald Jones took the ball up the middle until he hit paydirt. A dropped pass on the two-point conversion kept the margin at 17-12. Three-and-outs were exchanged.
That is when the fun began. USC moved the ball just enough to on the edge of kicker Alex Woods' range. 43 yards, he made it to the crossbar but no further, it hit the turf without passing through the golden pillars of points. Myles Gaskin followed it with two runs for five yards. Now facing third-and-five, the decision was to run the ball and likely punt or put the ball in Browning's hands and let him go for the first. He found Mickens for one last slant route. UW needed only one more first down for the win until USC jumped offsides. Browning practiced some Muai Thai knees to finish off the Trojans - ballgame.
DOTS. Victory Dots.
- Azeem Victor is the most dynamic defensive player for the Huskies. His collisions are violent, his athleticism pops off the screen and he is out for blood. He leads the defense that closes quick and covers every inch of the field. The secondary has the anticipation and closing speed to cut frozen ropes, the linebacking core has the closing speed and the aggression to end lives and the defensive line has the power and push to collapse tackle boxes (sorry, creative juices ran out). Nobody embodies this more than Victor.
- Jake Browning wasn't at his best, obvious to everyone watching. He overthrew two open receivers deep on his first possession of the game and missed another easy touchdown to Mickens on the last UW red zone trip of the first half. He might have been over-amped, or the explanation is as simple as him being a true freshman starting on the road against the No. 17 team in the country. We have to expect the inconsistencies, especially without much of a running game to lean on and a rotating cast of equally inexperienced offensive linemen in his face. Per Adam Jude, the Dawgs have started nine difference offensive linemen this season with sophomore Andrew Kirkland starting this evening.
- Look, I gotta talk about the defense. Again. The secondary doesn't have a weak link. Kevin King was tasked with shadowing Adoree Jackson and shut him down. He also let the entire Trojan offense know whenever he was in on a play. Sidney Jones is a potential first round pick and I won't stop on that train. Gardenhire is slightly better hands away from what, five interceptions this season? Budda Baker has been injured but makes plays at the line of scrimmage. He makes plays on the back end. Baker had a sequence late in the third quarter where he stopped a man at the line of scrimmage and broke up a deep pass down the sideline on subsequent plays. Kevin King is the only upperclassman of the group and he still has another season.
- Browning isn't getting much help from his receivers, his senior tight end Perkins struggles to make contested catches, which is the exact thing you want your senior pass-catching tight end to do. Instead, Lenius does this. Watch it, or watch it on SportsCenter later. My word. Mickens is good on a slant and is the main guy you want catching the ball on a bubble screen. Every other receiver shows their youth more than their quarterback.
- Travis Feeney, one of the few examples of experience on the Huskies team, was all over the place. He, Bierria, Elijah Qualls and Victor gave Kessler happy feet, and the former Heisman candidate started to break the pocket earlier and earlier, making the job of the already near-elite secondary even easier.
- I can't give out a game ball. I want to give out game laces. Gaskin, Bierria, Jones IV, Qualls, KIng. How many laces are on a regulation football? Feeney gets a mention. There are too many players who turned in amazing games to give it to any three.