Rushing Offense - A
Starting off with the rushing offense today, because why not? RB Dillon Johnson put forth an all-time performance in the long history of Washington football, with his 256 yards placing him fifth all time for a single game (and he was only 3 yards away from the top three). He also scored four touchdowns and should have had a fifth that was bizarrely called off after LT Troy Fautanu has his helmet ripped off and was called for “participating without a helmet.” The numbers vary depending on where you look, but PFF gives him 129 yards before contact and just two forced missed tackles, highlighting a dominant performance from the offensive line.
He ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run in the first half, and had another 50+ yarder after a USC punt pinned the Huskies on their own 9 yard line. The Huskies were up 45-42 and scored on the drive to ice the game. It is not out of the question that they could have driven 91 yards for a touchdown against this USC defense without that run, but a huge gash like that certainly made it more likely. He also had runs of 33 and 20 yards earlier in the game, each of which resulted in drives in which UW scored.
At times the Huskies have struggled in the red zone this year, but Johnson had all the answers on Saturday night. After forcing a USC fumble and getting the ball at the USC 12 yard line, it was three straight Johnson carries that got them over the goal line.
The coaches have been talking up RB Tybo Rodgers and he showed some flashes of his explosiveness and ability to make people miss in his limited opportunities, with 21 yards on five carries. RB Will Nixon was effective as well, averaging 6 yards per carry on his four attempts.
Passing Offense - A-
This might be the only time all season the pass game takes a backseat to the run game, as Michael Penix Jr. threw for “only” 256 yards and had a red zone turnover (though it took a 6-6 linebacker using every inch of his long arms to tip a pass and a DB breaking off his coverage to corral the interception). That being said, the pass game did what it needed to do and provided more than enough big plays, the biggest of which was Penix’s 3rd-and-18 touchdown to TE Devin Culp, who is quietly making some of the biggest plays of the season. Not the biggest game for WR Rome Odunze, but a few well timed middle screens saw him get upfield for positive yardage.
There was also an 11 yard 3rd-and-10 completion to TE Jack Westover, which the Huskies converted to a touchdown two players later. Penix also found Odunze wide open on 4th-and-6 for a 26 yard gain, and two plays later he found Ja’Lynn in the end zone. There weren’t a ton of big plays downfield, but when he took shots they usually resulted in defensive PI, or a pass completion. Polk also had one of his patented gets-hit-while-jumping-for-the-ball pass catches, for 32 yards. Another notable play was the 19 yard pass to TE Josh Cuevas, who made a great adjustment and caught the ball right on the sideline.
Rushing Defense - C-
DT Tuli Letuligasenoa only played 14 snaps and without him, the Huskies struggled to offer much resistance to the USC run game. The threat of QB Caleb Williams contributed to that, but 7.5 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns is not good enough, especially with USC down their starting running back, MarShawn Lloyd. Per PFF, they only recorded four “stops” in run defense, meaning a tackle that constitutes a failure for the offense. The previous low in a game was 10, and they even managed 17 stops against Oregon. Despite that, the defense as a whole kept USC from scoring nary a point in the fourth quarters, so I’ll give them that.
Passing Defense - C+
Things were slightly better here, as the Husky pass rush did just enough to win the game. They didn’t exactly harass Caleb Williams, but all the big defensive plays involved bringing him to the ground, none of which were bigger than DT Voi Tunuufi’s sack on 3rd-and-13 to push the Trojans out of field goal range late in the game, while UW was clinging to a three point lead. It might be hard to believe, but that was the eleventh sack of his career.
EDGE Zion Tupuloa-Fetui had a huge play at the end of the first half, forcing a Williams fumble, which EDGE Bralen Trice recovered. Three plays later, the Huskies scored a touchdown. Ideally a few more of Washington’s 14 QB hurries would have turned into sacks, but Williams won the Heisman last year for a reason and is one of the better duel threat QBs the Huskies are likely to face for a long, long time (thankfully).
CB Thaddeus Dixon was thrust into the lineup in place of CB Meesh Powell, who moved to safety, who was covering for some injuries. Dixon had 3 PFF “stops” in pass plays, most on the team. He was a pleasant surprise for someone who seemingly hasn’t played much the past few games.
Special Teams - B
Some good, some bad. The blocked punt - Washington’s only punt of the game - in the shadow of the goal post was bad. The way the USC was playing offense, maybe it would not have mattered if the field was flipped, but special teams miscues like that can cost games. On the other hand, K Grady Gross hit his 44 yard field goal and all 7 PATs. On nine kickoffs, six were touchbacks. Of the three that weren’t, one USC WR Zachariah Branch let hit the ground and the Huskies tackled him at the 5 yard line. The explosive freshman only had 3 return attempts and averaged just 14 yards each.
Coaching - B+
Hard not to give the coaching an A, but the defense, even against the reigning Heisman trophy winner, feels like it could have offered just a little more resistance. But, like they’ve done most of the season, the defense made enough plays and seemed to improve as the game went on, which is all you can ask for. Caleb Williams may very well have been a bit worn out by the end of the game from being chased around, and the Huskies ultimately held the Trojans scoreless in the final quarter.
Offensively, the 52 points were the most scored by a Washington team against the Trojans, ever. Their previous high was 34 points, all the way back in 1960. The commitment to the run game no doubt left many Husky feeling happy with Ryan Grubb, who didn’t get greedy with the downfield shots, and took what was working.
Face to face against a USC team fighting for it’s conference championship hopes, the Huskies didn’t blink.