Huskies make the improbable happen — again
For the second straight year, the Huskies, led by a USC protégé, knocked the Trojans right off their horse.
Seattle Times staff columnist
LOS ANGELES — After the victorious kick rifled through the uprights, the Washington Huskies ran all over Memorial Coliseum as if in need of GPS devices. They sprawled the field in fits of aimless jubilation — some players hugging, some hopping, even coaches leaping into the air and chest-bumping each other.
The improbable happened. Again.
Washington 32, USC 31.
For the second straight year, the Huskies, led by a USC protégé, knocked the Trojans right off their horse. And once again, they did so by turning to their (Erik) Folk hero in the game's final seconds.
"Kind of like Yogi Berra said: 'Déjà vu all over again,' " said coach Steve Sarkisian, a USC disciple.
Only this time, it was better.
Last season, the Huskies shocked the Trojans and won an ugly home game on their newfound resolve and the good fortune of quarterback Matt Barkley missing the game because of injury.
On Saturday, they went to USC's house, with the Trojans paying full attention, and put up 536 yards of offense in a shootout that required every single yard. They took the Trojans' best shot, at least when it came to a USC offense that produced 484 yards of its own. And they claimed victory in spite of mistakes, dropped passes and a hit that nearly knocked quarterback Jake Locker out of the game.
Just like Locker rose after taking a knee to the helmet, the Huskies weathered the trauma of this game and posted the biggest win of Sarkisian's 16-game tenure.
"I feel like I just played," Sarkisian said afterward, grinning. "That was a very cool football game to be a part of."
It was cool because Locker played the finest game of his college career, throwing for 310 yards, rushing for 110 and making two huge plays on the final drive to ensure this triumph.
It was cool because when receivers started dropping passes late in the game, D'Andre Goodwin held onto a laser from Locker on a fourth-and-11 reception that belongs next to Folk's game-winning field goal as the most important plays of this contest.
It was cool because the Washington defense, which mostly looked like poor lads standing around and trying to hail a cab, kept USC out of the end zone in the fourth quarter.
It was cool because backup quarterback Keith Price, who had thrown only one pass before Saturday, subbed for a woozy Locker for one play and threw a touchdown on a rickety jump pass; because Chris Polk churned his legs for 36 of his 92 rushing yards on the final drive; and because Sarkisian's play-calling was the best it has been in two years.
So the program's 13-game road losing streak is over. And so is the feeling that the team had regressed during a lackluster 1-2 start to the season.
"This one felt real good," said wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who finished with six receptions and 92 yards despite several drops. "I had heard people say that every time USC loses and you have to go to their place the next season, they never lose. Well, we went out there and did what we had to do to win again."
It was the kind of game that the Huskies had lost many times during their road losing streak. Washington spent the offseason talking about finishing games in the fourth quarter. It was something it couldn't do at Notre Dame or Arizona State or UCLA in 2009. New year, new team, new determination.
Seven lead changes didn't rattle the Huskies. USC's 298 rushing yards didn't overpower them. Neither did Locker's fumble at the end of a 54-yard run in the second quarter, which turned a near touchdown into a touchback.
It's not often that a game features combined 1,024 yards, and you end up lauding a team for its toughness. But the Huskies won on grit.
After a humiliating 56-21 loss to Nebraska two weeks ago, Sarkisian looked at the film and thought his team lost its competitive edge in the second half. He vowed it wouldn't happen again. Throughout the past two weeks of practice, the coaches challenged the players to battle. Well, how's this for battling?
One game after losing to a ranked foe by five touchdowns at home, they beat No. 18 USC on the road. Two years ago, the Huskies came here and lost 56-0. This victory is another sign of how far this program has come in a short period.
"We battled," Sarkisian said. "We played with huge hearts."
And they may have just turned around a season that began too shaky for comfort.
"Man, this game means so much to us," Kearse said.
Never thought I'd say this, but if only the Huskies could play USC every game.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
|Jake Locker threw for 300 yards for just the third time in his career.|
|Oct. 27, 2007||Arizona||L, 48-41||17||30||336||98||2||2|
|Sept. 5, 2009||LSU||L, 31-23||25||45||321||51||2||1|
|Oct. 2, 2010||at USC||W, 32-31||24||40||310||44||1||0|
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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