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October 15, 2012 at 10:23 AM

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Husky football review: Three likes and dislikes about the 24-14 loss to USC

PriceUSCHansen.jpg
Photo credit: Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times
Keith Price's fumble was one of three painful turnovers he committed in the game's final quarter.

Related Column: Huskies' comeback bid is too little, too late against USC

Detailing the highs and lows from Washington's uneven performance in a 24-14 loss to USC:

Dislikes

1. The Huskies started so poorly against the Trojans that you would've thought it was their first game against a ranked opponent, not their fourth in five weeks. Yes, USC's talent had plenty to do with the Huskies falling behind 10-0 in the game's first five minutes and 24-7 by halftime. But it was also clear that the Huskies were mentally and emotionally flat at the start.

"I feel like we came out and we were kind of just running plays," running back Bishop Sankey said. "There was really no edge to us."

They weren't ready to attack this game, and of course, coach Steve Sarkisian must shoulder much of the blame for that. It almost felt like the Huskies had played so many big games in a short period that they couldn't get up for this one. If so, that's inexcusable. It's USC. And, heck, it's one of only 12 football games. That's plenty of reason to compete like crazy. On the other hand, if the Huskies simply executed better on defense at the start and limited big plays such as Silas Redd's 57-yard run, and if Keith Price didn't throw an interception on their second possession, perhaps they wouldn't have seemed as flat. Whatever the problem was, when you're playing at home against a highly-ranked team that has some holes you can exploit, you have to attack early. Instead, the Huskies were playing catch-up for most of the game. And you know how that turned out.

2. The Huskies squandered several opportunities to pull off a comeback. Price's three turnovers in the fourth quarter hurt, especially the fumble on the read option three yards from the end zone. Travis Coons also missed a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter that could've cut the deficit to 24-17. USC played an odd, conservative style in the second half, practically daring the Huskies to try to get back into the game. And though Washington came to life, it couldn't finish critical plays on offense to make it a tighter ballgame.

3. Keith Price's turnovers and the offensive line's poor pass protection remain concerns. The O-line allowed five sacks, and Price was pressured and hit many more times. In what has become an alarming trend, Price absorbed some vicious blows. Somehow, he kept getting up, and he even found a way to be productive in the second half. But he also threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. He has committed seven turnovers in his past two games.

Likes

1. The second half was a building-block effort for the defense, even if USC played conservatively. The Trojans had 371 total yards, but only 138 of those came after halftime. USC played not to lose, but Washington came after the Trojans, held them scoreless in the second half, and you saw another glimpse of the speed and aggressiveness that the Huskies play with under new coordinator Justin Wilcox. Redd rushed for 155 yards, but he had only 98 yards on 25 carries (3.9 average) after his 57-yard run on the Trojans' first play from scrimmage. Matt Barkley didn't have a great day, finishing 10 of 20 for 167 yards and an interception. He was just 5 of 10 for 60 yards in that conservative second half. Wide receiver Marquise Lee didn't catch a pass in the second half, and he had just two receptions for the game. Robert Woods caught only one second-half pass, but it was a huge 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter that helped the Trojans take 5 1/2 minutes off the clock with a 10-play drive. Josh Shirley sacked Barkley on fourth down to end the drive, but the USC had accomplished its primary goal.

2. After an 0-for-3 start, Price completed 20 of 25 passes, including a stretch of 16 straight. Finally, the passing game found its efficiency and production. Price's numbers -- 20 of 28 for 198 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions -- were decent. He threw for 140 yards in the second half, when the Huskies looked more like themselves. It helped that tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins had his finest performance in weeks, catching five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. He had four receptions and 79 yards in the second half. Price completed passes to eight different receivers. This was progress. Price's turnovers and the pressure he faced tempers the enthusiasm about the performance, but the Huskies looked better in the passing game. It's not good enough yet, though.

3. Cornerback Desmond Trufant played some of his best football, and redshirt freshman Marcus Peters had his moments, too. Trufant did exactly what the Huskies needed him to against Lee and Woods, the Trojans' talented receivers. Washington mixed up its coverage, and Trufant was all over the place, matching up on both receivers, but paying the most attention to Lee. As we wrote earlier, Lee had just two receptions and didn't catch a pass in the second half. Trufant looked like the NFL player that he soon will be. Peters, who is a long and lean athlete who seems taller than his 5 feet 11 listed height, had his best game. He had one interception, one tackle for loss and nine total tackles. He wasn't perfect, but he held his own in coverage. The Huskies have to be encouraged by his performance.

Overall assessment

The Huskies (3-3) are a frustrating team to watch at times, but they did survive a brutal early schedule and remain in position to make a third straight bowl appearance. The final six games are easier, but they're far from easy. This team isn't consistent in any facet of the game, so it's hard to forecast how this season will conclude.

The hope is that, against more manageable competition, the Huskies' shortcomings won't be exposed as much. Still, this team has provided opponents with a lot of information on where it's vulnerable, and in some cases (like pass protection), it doesn't seem the Huskies have an answer for their problems.

You can take an optimistic view of the Huskies just as easily as you can have a pessimistic outlook. The season truly go could either way from here.

Saturday's game at Arizona will be quite telling.


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