Huskies go old school in 16-13 upset of USC
Washington's victory over Trojans reminds former players of glory years
Seattle Times staff reporter
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In the sea of humanity that swarmed onto the field at Husky Stadium after the biggest moment in years, there were a few who had been there before. Former players who had once enjoyed similar glory then watched helplessly as the program sunk to depths they could never have imagined.
"I had a multitude of [former players] come up to me and say just 'thank you,' " said middle linebacker Donald Butler after the Huskies shocked No. 3 USC 16-13 on Saturday. "Thank you for finally showing everybody else that UW is serious and not just some cake team you can run all over."
For a few scary moments Saturday, however, it looked like nothing had changed as the Trojans moved easily down the field the first two times they had the ball, rushing for 111 yards in the process, to take a 10-0 lead.
"Early on in that game you would have thought we would have gotten beat 50-0," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian.
But then the Huskies dipped back into a past that those former players surely happily recognized, playing the kind of grind-it-out game the program was once noted for and holding the Trojans to just three points in the final 49:24.
It was a shocking turnaround for a defense that last year ranked as the worst in school history. It was a group that was challenged this week by defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who told reporters Wednesday that there are "deficiencies there with personnel" on the defense. Then they were further challenged by USC's fast start.
"They could have cashed it in and said, 'We can't stop them, we can't stop their run,' " Sarkisian said. "But we kept battling, we kept competing."
They also got some help from their coaches, who made a few strategic moves after the first couple of drives. One was to stick with the Huskies' base 4-3 defense after experimenting with different looks, including an up defensive end a couple times, and four linebackers on one play.
"We felt, I felt as a team, as a defense, we can go one-on-one with them," said linebacker Mason Foster. "That's all we need to do, is man up and zone up and just play basic stuff, and that's what we did."
There were also a couple of personnel changes as true freshman Talia Crichton started at defensive end, and Everrette Thompson came in during the third drive at defensive tackle. Both are among UW's faster players on the defensive line. Thompson, a sophomore from Kennedy, had been a defensive end until moving to tackle this week.
"We were looking at a couple of things [on the first two drives], and I think that ultimately, you get back to basics," Sarkisian said. "And I felt we needed to put more speed on the field, especially at the defensive line, and not just try to go toe-to-toe with them, and move around and try to play fast. And it worked out for us."
Thompson, listed at 6 feet 6, 262 pounds, filled in the spot usually held by Alameda Ta'amu, listed at 348.
"Nothing against Alameda," said middle linebacker Donald Butler. "He's a big guy and we like him when guys try to run downhill at us. But when we get that zone stuff, we need someone who is not going to get reached or cut [blocked], and Everrette was able to come in and make some plays for us."
Washington held USC to 139 yards rushing the final three quarters, limiting the run enough to force first-time starting quarterback Aaron Corp to have to make plays with his arm. He struggled to do that, however, hitting just 13 of 22 passes for 110 yards and throwing a critical interception in the third quarter right into the arms of Butler after USC had reached the Huskies' 22-yard line.
On USC's previous possession, Butler had forced Trojans fullback Stanley Havili to fumble, one of three turnovers for the visitors, which Sarkisian cited as the key stat of the game. The other USC turnover came when Foster forced a Stafon Johnson fumble in the second quarter.
The fumble and interception were part of what was maybe the best day of Butler's four-year UW career. He made a game-high 12 tackles and two tackles for a loss.
And in the postgame giddiness, some of those former players — guys like Nate Robinson, Anthony Kelley and Mark Bruener were all present — also had another message for Butler.
"I saw some Rose Bowl rings and they said, 'Hey, get one of these,' " Butler said. "That's what it's all about. That's what we are gunning for."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
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