Nov. 12, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
LOS ANGELES - At least the Huskies departed Southern California with two traits intact that will come in handy the rest of this month.
Perspective. And resiliency.
"There are still a lot of good things out there for us to achieve," coach Steve Sarkisian said Saturday in the hallway of the quiet visitors' locker room at his former home, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
"But we have to get right."
A few minutes after the Huskies' two-year hex on USC ended with a resounding thud, co-captain and Pac-12 tackles leader Cort Dennison said: "We're not going to let this game get to us. We realize we've got two regular-season games left. We're holding our heads up high."
As fiery Nick Holt walked out of the Coliseum, the defensive coordinator spoke for the rest of the 6-4 Huskies.
"It's disappointing," Holt said. "It shouldn't be 40-17. You know what I'm saying?"
We do. But it was.
The mistake-plagued Huskies committed 12 penalties, allowed seven sacks, gained just 46 yards rushing while allowing 252, and lost to the 18th-ranked Trojans 40-17 on a gray-all-over afternoon at the Coliseum.
An official from the Holiday Bowl was in the press box scouting the Huskies for his game in San Diego, where the Huskies won last December. Hopefully that guy had his eyes closed for most of this one.
Last week Sarkisian assessed his offensive line's performance in a 34-17 loss to Oregon as "poor." Saturday was worse. The line could not hold back the Trojans' zooming rush ends, leaving quarterback Keith Price trying in vain to escape sacks on two re-injured knees. He ended up dumped four times and ultimately with a towel over his head as a pained spectator for the final 1 ½ quarters.
Price kicked a garbage can behind the bench after his second knee injury of the day, frustrated for the second consecutive week that he couldn't do more. The offense didn't covert a third down until it was 40-10 and Nick Montana was in during the fourth quarter.
Price had 21 touchdown passes and four interceptions in his first six games. He has four touchdowns, six interceptions - and three losses - in his last four starts. The owner of the second-most touchdown throws in any of Washington's 120 seasons, 25, had none amid at USC all the breakdowns.
"We were killing ourselves," Price said.
He vowed he will be healthy enough play next Saturday at Oregon State -- as he has all season while enduring two previous sprained knees, a sprained ankle, a bruised shoulder.
Meanwhile the defense could not contain USC's big-play receivers and runners. The Huskies missed tackles, and weren't around at all to stop a 79-yard touchdown run by the Trojans' Curtis McNeal in the third quarter. That was seconds after UW had gained its only momentum of the game and trailed 30-10.
The special teams? They allowed a 35-yard run by USC's punter, despite him chugging like a truck in first gear. The play was the spark that turned a 7-3 game into the Huskies' 23-3 hole at halftime.
All that plus sent Washington (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12) to its first loss to USC since 2008. It was UW's fourth defeat in 14 games overall dating to last season.
Washington has lost all four of its games against ranked teams this season: Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and now USC (8-2, 5-2).
"I don't doubt their effort. I don't doubt their willingness to want to do well," Sarkisian said. "But ultimately to win against good teams you have to execute. And we didn't execute. That's why you lose."
Price completed 12 of 16 passes for 125 yards while absorbing four of USC's seven sacks. He left for his own good with the Trojans leading 37-10 in the third quarter. Sarkisian and trainers simply didn't want to expose him to any more punishment.
"We check putting ourselves in second and long and third and long," Price said, referring to Washington going 2 for 13 on third downs. "We got away from our game plan a little bit. We were just chasing yards the whole game."
Price spent the last part of it with a white towel over his head on the sideline tutoring backup Nick Montana. The redshirt freshman threw his first career touchdown pass with 13 seconds left, a 20-yard loft to Kasen Williams.
Montana completed 9 of 15 passes for 73 yards. He was sacked twice, too, just to make him feel fully part of this one.
Chris Polk, the Huskies' 1,000-yard back, wasn't even a 40-yard one Saturday. Rendered moot by UW falling behind early, he gained just 36 yards on nine carries. That's two consecutive weeks the Huskies' career leader with 18 games of at least 100 yards rushing has been held under 100.
Sarkisian took responsibility for needing to fix the offense in a hurry and hinted there could be changes on the offensive line.
The first half couldn't have been much worse for the Huskies.
They committed nine penalties, including two for pass interference and one for a late hit out of bounds that extended USC drives to touchdowns. After the second interference flag on cornerback Greg Ducre allowed USC to covert a third and 19 in its own end, the defense made a stop. But that's when Trojans punter Kyle Negrete took off up the open middle of the field for 35 yards on a fourth-and-9 fake, to the UW 20.
On third and goal, Marc Tyler ran around left end on a sweep to make it 14-3 Trojans.
The kickoff-return team was then called for holding, pinning the Huskies at their own 9. On third and 10 from there, center Drew Schaefer's shotgun snap was high off Price's outstretched hand, reinforcing what Sarkisian said has concerned him for three weeks. Price scrambled into the end zone to pick up the ball then got his right knee twisted on a sack by USC's Devon Kennard. The safety made it 16-3.
Price limped off the field and went to a table behind the bench. Trainers fit him with a soft brace over the knee, which he sprained in September, and he went back in for the Huskies' next offensive series.
But that didn't come right away. After Washington's free kick following the safety, USC converted a third and 3 and then scored on a 9-yard pass from Barkley to Marqise Lee to make it 23-3 at halftime.
The second half started worse for UW than the first one ended.
Lee took the kickoff after halftime, bounced outside a gaggle of tacklers and blockers at the USC 20, then sped past kicker Erik Folk and running back Jesse Callier for an 88-yard touchdown. That made it 30-3 and ended any dreams of a Huskies comeback.
Price's lone deep pass completion of the game, a 53-yard catch and run by Kevin Smith, set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Polk that made it 30-10. But it took USC just two plays to go back up by 27. McNeal, who finished with 148 yards rushing, ran untouched through the middle of Washington's blitzing defense. No Husky got to him until Will Shamburger grabbed at him at the UW 15, but McNeal ran through that try for the galling, 79-yard touchdown.
Price was sacked for the fourth and final time to end the next drive, then hopped off the field to the sideline keeping his left leg with contacting the grass. He crumpled to the ground in front of the bench. Trainers then examined his left knee, which he had also sprained earlier this season.
That and the garbage-can kick ended Price's day.
The Huskies head to Corvallis next Saturday to play Oregon State then close the regular season in Seattle against Washington State. So an eight-win season remains within reach - just over two years removed from the 0-12 debacle.
That big picture was part of Sarkisian's post-game message to his team.
"That's important to know, and we touched on that," the third-year coach said. "We all want that.
"But we have to perform to earn that."
One of the Huskies' senior leaders thinks that will happen.
"Yeah, we will regroup," defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu said. "Knowing our team, we'll bounce back."
QUICK HITS: Williams led UW in receptions for the second consecutive game. The true freshman had five, for 44 yards and the late score. "For me, the progression I've had from the beginning of the season to now is huge," he said. ... Kiel Rasp was the Huskies' star, punting eight times for a whopping 52.2-yard average. One soared 62 yards. The Huskies downed another at the USC 2. ... The Huskies missed a chance to do something they haven't done since 1934-35: Win games in consecutive seasons at USC.