Husky Defense Comes Up Big Vs. USC
Sept. 20, 2009
by Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - The wild scene at the end of Washington's 16-13 upset over No. 3 Southern Cal could have never been imagined during the first 11 minutes.
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian saw USC's offensive line gashing his defense, creating wide holes for the Trojans running backs to cruise through. His linebackers, pumped with adrenaline, were over-committing and missing their assignments. In the span of two possessions, USC was up 10-0 and poised for a blowout.
'I thought we were going to lose 50-to-nothing,' Sarkisian said afterwards.
But the defense allowed just three points the rest of the way. USC never converted a third down (0-for-10). It was a performance worthy of whatever superlative you wanted to use.
The Huskies did so without any exotic schemes. The coaching staff reminded players to 'do their jobs.' The defensive line started to create pressure, allowing the linebackers to fly around and make tackles. The more the game bled on, the more the players fed on the emotion of Husky Stadium. Without their effort, there is no game-winning field goal from Erik Folk with three seconds left on the clock. Or a sea of purple spilling onto the turf as time expired.
With the win, the Huskies garnered their first national ranking (No. 24) since 2003.
Donald Butler earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors for his superhuman effort. The linebacker totaled a career-high 12 tackles, and intercepted a pass. Mason Foster broke up three passes and forced a fumble. This coming from a group that was admittedly out of their element early on against the Trojans, over-pursuing on plays and generally looking lost. At the end, they were the class of the defense.
'Our linebackers played great today,' said defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.
Once the Huskies limited the Trojans running game, they forced USC quarterback Aaron Corp to make plays on his own. But here was a quarterback making his first-ever start, and at times he looked swallowed up in the environment. So when the Trojans couldn't lean on Joe McKnight (11 carries, 100 yards), or fullback Stanley Havili, the offense sputtered. Corp, starting in place of Matt Barkley, completed just 13 passes for 110 yards and an interception. He never looked in sync with his receivers, and the Trojans didn't feel comfortable enough in the passing game to stretch the field. The 110 yards by Corp was the fewest the Trojans had passed for in a game since Aug. 27, 2000.
But the biggest factor was the turnover differential. The Trojans had three, all inside the Huskies 35-yard line. The Huskies had none.
USC still had a chance to go ahead late in the fourth quarter, trailing 13-10. A 34-yard run from McKnight put the Trojans in striking distance, at the Washington 22-yard line. Another first down brought the ball to the 11, with the clock ticking under the six-minute mark.
But the next three plays encompassed the Huskies defensive efforts for the entire afternoon. Butler stoned RB Stafon Johnson for no gain. Cornerback Quinton Richardson made a shoestring tackle on Corp that prevented a touchdown. Butler again slammed into Johnson for no gain. USC kicked a game-tying field goal, but their offensive players were clearly upset as they left the field.
In the first two games, the Huskies had earned praise for their exploits on offense. The defense, however, looked as if it could be an issue. Even recently as this week, there were those who questioned whether the group had the requisite talent to compete in the Pac-10 Conference.
In the remaining 49 minutes against USC, the Huskies offered their best answer to that particular question.