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Instant Reactions: Huskies Hold off USC for Crucial Conference Win

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Washington Defense Stifles Trojans with Three Interceptions

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 USC at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If a two-score win over a ranked, talented rival can be workmanlike, then Washington’s 28-14 victory against USC was, indeed, workmanlike. The Huskies’ pass defense made things difficult for Matt Fink and the Trojans with three interceptions. On the other side of the ball, a big play by Salvon Ahmed and some timely completions by Jacob Eason were enough for the Dawgs to maintain a comfortable margin until the final whistle.

Washington took the lead in the middle of the first on a short scoring run by Richard Newton. The drive was set up by Kyler Manu, who sacked Fink deep in USC territory and flipped the field in Washington’s favor after a punt. A Chico McClatcher 19-yard run put Washington in the red zone and Newton finished the drive.

Fink’s struggles continued on the next drive when he threw a pick to Cameron Williams. Eason took advantage of the short field with a 23-yard pass to Aaron Fuller. Salvon Ahmed fumbled inside the one (though it looked like his elbow would have been ruled down if there were a review). Fortunately, Andre Baccellia fell on the ball in the end zone to give the Huskies a two-TD lead at the end of the first quarter.

After another defensive stop, Fuller made a mistake by fair catching a punt inside his own five. The bad field position allowed USC to take over in a favorable spot. While it took them 12 plays, the Trojans were able to cover the 39 yards. Fink finally punched it in with a one-yard run to cut the UW lead in half and show offensive signs of life for the Trojans.

Washington proceeded to control the ball for the final four minutes of the half. The highlight of the drive was an athletic catch-and-run by Hunter Bryant that netted 20 yards. USC became the first team to stuff the Richard Cat (there has to be a better name for it), but UW came back with the same play and McClatcher took the handoff to convert on 4th and 1. With some solid clock management, the Huskies were able to punch through a 28-yard Peyton Henry FG as time expired to take a 10-point lead into the half.

USC didn’t give Washington the same field position gifts in the second half and it made points harder to come by. A long completion to Cade Otton on the first drive of the half put UW in solid position, but the drive stalled out before another Henry FG put the Dawgs up 20-7.

The teams traded punts before Stephen Carr finally got the USC offense moving with a 60-yard scamper down the right sideline. The Trojans made the Dawg fans sweat as they pushed the ball into the red zone, but Elijah Molden saved the day with the second interception of the game off of Fink. Although the following drive started inside the Husky 10, it was no problem because Salmon Ahmed made the play of the day with an 89-yard TD. He stutter-stepped at the line, identified a hole, and burned past every defender for the huge play. After a successful 2-point conversion, the Huskies led 28-7.

The big lead was short-lived. The Dawgs nearly forced another three-and-out, but Fink made a nice pass to Michael Pittman Jr. for a 3rd down conversion. Two snaps later, he went back to Pittman down the sideline for a 44-yard TD pass.

With a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, UW had several chances to put the game out of reach but couldn’t put that last nail in the coffin. They got the ball in good field position and turned it over- their only TO of the game- on a botched double-reverse. USC could not capitalize and had to punt the ball back after a crippling offensive pass interference penalty. Again, UW could not finish USC off- after a seven-yard run on first down, they couldn’t make any more progress and had to punt again.

USC marched down the field, but the four-minute drive put them in a time crunch. On fourth and goal at the 3, Fink tried a fade to the corner of the end zone that Myles Bryant defended very well. Yet again, the Dawgs couldn’t quite end the game with another failed third-down conversion on third and two. USC had their backs against the wall down two scores with about three minutes to play, but they still had a chance. They converted a fourth-down try due to a pass interference penalty on Keith Taylor. Fink then threw his third pick of the game, again to Cameron Williams, and the Huskies were able to run out the clock.

Other Notes

-UW seemed to anticipate that USC’s defensive front would put pressure on Eason. He rarely saw a clean pocket and took fewer shots down the field. The big gains by Otton and Bryant both included runs after the catch. Fuller managed six catches for 68 yards, but Baccellia was once again mostly quiet against a more physical secondary.

-As Gabey Lucas and I discussed on All We Hear Is Purple (SHAMELESS PLUG), the lack of Talanoa Hufanga and USC”s aggressive defensive front created an opportunity to break off a big run. Ahmed showed no lingering effects from the injury that kept him out last week and capitalized when the opportunity presented itself.

-USC showed some flexibility in their play-calling with 33 runs after only 22 last week against Utah. Carr, Markese Stepp, and Vavae Malepeai all found holes in UW’s imperfect run defense. The line largely held up, but once again, it looked like it took an extra beat for the linebackers (particularly Brandon Wellington) to fill the gaps, which allowed USC to stay ahead of the chains.

-I only mentioned Taylor’s name for his late PI penalty, but he and Trent McDuffie both played strong games against USC’s elite WRs. Part of the blame goes on Fink, but 5 yards per attempt and 3 picks is not the air raid game plan USC envisioned.

-Peyton Henry remained perfect on FGs for the season with two more. Joel Whitford punted well all day, including one with his heels at the back of the end zone. All around, a solid special teams performance.