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Grading the Game: USC Trojans

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Covering the spread against USC means everyone gets As, right?

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

A two touchdown victory over USC is a rare outcome. Considering it is just UCLA and USC in the Pac-12 the Huskies don’t have an all-time winning winning record against, any victory is a good one. Plenty of things to improve upon, and we saw some of the same warts, but Washington played a more than solid game against a very talented and athletic team.

Quarterback: B

He didn’t make any big mistakes, and only went for a couple deep shots, but overall the pass game wasn’t very dynamic. It’s hard to say whether it was Eason unwilling to take the shots or if the receivers weren’t getting open. But in a game that at many times could have gone either way had Washington not won the moments, he didn’t make the critical error that could have cost the victory. He completed 60% of his 26 attempts, but only three were for greater than 20 yards. The run game was clearly the most important part of the offense to get going, as the pass game never really took flight. The game never felt in doubt and he did what was needed to win - not much more you can ask for.

Running Back: B+

A relatively quiet day for running backs not named Salvon Ahmed, who finished the day with a career high 158 yards, most of which came on his 89 yard burner. Take it away and he averaged 4.0 yards exactly on his other 16 carries. Which is completely and totally fine, because he adds the big play threat. It came at the perfect time, too - right after an interception stole a sure TD for USC. Redshirt freshman surprise Richard Newton got another touchdown in the red zone and continues to be a major weapon inside the 20 yard line, where the Huskies struggled last year. Will he ever get bored of punching it in? I hope not. Sean McGrew had two carries as well, but it was basically the Salvon Ahmed show against the Trojans.

Wide Receiver: B

The run game was clearly the priority so there wasn’t an abundance of chances for the receivers. Aaron Fuller as always led the way for the WRs with a very Aaron Fuller-y stat line: 6 catches for 68 yards. Andre Baccellia did not make much of an impact in the pass game with just 13 yards on two catches. But, he was on the spot to recover an Ahmed fumble in the end zone for a touchdown, which could have been disastrous for the Huskies. Clearly, neither was a focal point of the UW game plan but they did not overly impress either. Chico McClatcher had a couple nice moments, including a 19-yard gain on an end around on Washington’s first TD drive. He later converted the 2 point conversion to give the Huskies 28 points.

Tight End: A-

Really great game for Hunter Bryant and Cade Otton. Not only did I see excellent physical blocking from them both but they were dynamic in the pass game as well. Aside from a Bryant drop on a deep all he should have hauled in, they played cleanly. Three of Bryant’s four receptions went for 10 yards or more and Otton had a 36 yard reception where he was dragging bodies for extra yards. That 36 yard completion was Eason’s longest of the day and Otton continues to be an outlet in the pass game.

Offensive Line: B+

For the most part Washington’s OL did its job against a tough USC front four that is the strength of their defense. They only let in 3 TFLs, which is great against an active front like USCs. They continue to play well this season and show up as a tough and experienced group. Not much to say other than another solid game for the OL.

Defensive Line: B

Against a shaky USC offensive line, the DL held its own. I’m still waiting for Levi Onwuzurike to wreak some havoc out there but another 5 tackles hopefully means he is rounding into form. Tuli continues to get a lot of run as well, and is developing into a true space eater. Because the Huskies rushed 3 and dropped 8 into coverage quite a bit, it left a lot of space for USC running backs. And they took advantage, to the tune of 6.4 yards per rush, including a 60 and 35 yarder. Now, long runs like that aren’t usually the fault of the DL - it’s the guys behind them not cleaning up - but ideally you would like some more playmaking up front and behind the line of scrimmage.

Linebackers: B-

The linebacking unit this year has been up and down, and the USC game was more of the same. If I’m taking some blame off the DL for USC’s run success, I am definitely putting a bit more on the LBs. Washington hasn’t been great stopping the run this year, and part of that is on the linebackers, the middle ones in particular. Kyler Manu had a solid game with 6 tackles and his first career sack, which was awesome. But there were too many times both he and Wellington were caught in no-mans-land not able to make play. Though they do deserve credit for shutting down the pass game, and getting the proper depth in their zone drops. Jackson Sirmon got a lot of run as well and whiffed pretty badly on USC’s first TD, where Matt Fink kept the ball on a read option. Though, he had one of five Washington TFLs on the day. The outside guys didn’t have particularly standout games either, perhaps with the exception of Ryan Bowman who is Washington’s most consistent outside linebacker.

Secondary: B+

This grade might seem harsh, because overall they really did have an impressive game, limiting USC’s explosive receivers. It helped going against the 3rd string QB, but no matter who is playing QB, Michael Pittman and Tyler Vaughns are going to burn teams this year. Elijah Molden continues to be an absolute force at the nickel position and got his first career interception, the play of the game in my opinion as it led to a 14 point swing. Trent McDuffie has really been coming on too, playing physical and with great technique. He is one of Washington’s best CBs right now as a true freshman. Myles Bryant was all over the place as well, making plays in the backfield and tackling players in space. Keith Taylor didn’t have any huge plays but the fact we didn’t hear his name much means he was good in coverage. Kyler Gordon deserves a tip of the cap as well for his improvement. He had a couple nice plays including a very athletic breakup of a 4th down pass which would have been caught without him. Finally, there’s Cam Williams who had the most up and down day of the DBs. He only started playing safety his senior year of high school and is still learning but his two picks in the USC game were critical. However, he had his mistakes too, including a missed third down tackle, which lead to USC’s first half TD. He’s also partially on the hook for letting Michael Pittman get behind him on USCs lone passing TD of the day - he bit on the play action and his couple steps in the wrong direction cost him. But he recovered nicely with the game sealing interception.

Special Teams: A-

I have been really impressed with the improvement in special teams this year. Peyton Henry is still perfect on field goals, and a health Joel Whitford is booming punts. The only real wart I saw was Aaron Fuller fair catching a ball at his own 5 yard line. UW wasn’t able to hold the ball for long and was forced to punt, giving USC prime field position which they took advantage of and scored a TD.

Coaching: B+

The coaches had the team ready to play, and they won the game against a team they usually don’t beat. So that’s really good. Plus, the wrinkles they showed on defense taking away USC’s explosive pass game were excellent and likely won UW the game. But, there were some perplexing decisions, for sure - like UW calling the trick play up late in the 4th quarter. I actually don’t hate the call, but USC countered with the perfect blitz for it and the Dawgs turned it over. And when that happens late in a game when you’re up, it is going to be more heavily criticized. Ultimately, this was a game about Washington winning the moments - the big plays, and the critical situations in games that make the difference. They were ready for them, and USC was not. When playing a Helton coached USC team, you really appreciate the coaching and discipline the Huskies have. The game never felt in doubt.

Finally, the WRs weren’t needed greatly in this game, but after another very ho-hum game for Fuller and Baccellia against an athletic team, you have to wonder what the plan is for the younger guys. Are they really that much worse in practice that they can’t see the field? Puka Nacua and Terrell Bynum technically “started” the game, but neither was targeted nor did they play much as the game wore on. They likely will get more opportunities but it is something to monitor.