Palmer connected with true freshman Mike Williams for scores of 43, 14, and 11 yards, and also found Keary Colbert for a 61 yard score against a Husky secondary that has been torched by every quarterback it’s faced this year.
Williams finished the day with nine catches for 159 yards to go with his three scores while Colbert had 146 yards on seven grabs. USC was unable to run the ball, only netting 74 yards, but it didn’t matter.
Washington struggled mightily against USC’s defense, which was able to completely shut down any Husky running attack. The Huskies ran for MINUS five yards, making them so one-dimensional that the Trojans rarely had to move out of their 4-3 base defense. They were able to sit in zones and pin their ears back and get after Pickett with their front four.
Cody Pickett threw a staggering 61 passes, completing 34 of them for 350 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted twice when the game was still in the balance. USC outscored the Huskies 17-0 in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
Washington drops to 1-2 in the conference and shows absolutely no signs of improving in the rushing attack or in giving up big plays on defense. Never has a Husky team been so inept at running the football. After the game Rick Neuheisel called the Husky running game “woeful. I’m disappointed in the way we played because this game had huge implications. I thought we were ready but we were plagued once again by big plays and the inability to run the football.”
Neuheisel was still looking for answers as he addressed the media following the game.
“We are 4-3 with a very difficult road ahead. It’s going to take a lot of effort, resilience, and fortitude to get what needs to get done to make this season respectable. Husky fans have a right to be disappointed,” added the coach.
USC improves to 2-1 and are still very much in the Rose Bowl hunt while the Huskies are left to ponder how they will get two more wins and qualify for post-season play. For the first time since 1998, Washington is in very serious danger of a losing season. Next up for the Huskies are the ASU Sun Devils on the road. ASU defeated Oregon 45-42 this afternoon, and Washington has now lost five in a row on the road.
The game got off to an inauspicious start for the home team as Southern California turned the ball over on their first play from scrimmage. Carson Palmer was flushed from the pocket and attempted to lob a pass into a tight Husky zone to Mike Williams. Sam Cunningham, making his first start of his brief Husky career, stole the ball from the 6-5 receiver and returned it 11 yards to the USC 35-yard line. The early opportunity fizzled however as the Huskies were only able to move it to the Trojan 23. John Anderson’s 40-yard field goal attempt was aborted by a high snap that threw the timing off, allowing Kenechi Udeze to get a hand on the kick.
The Trojans got on the board first with 2:47 remaining in the first quarter. After an exchange of punts USC set up shop on their own 44. After Sultan McCullough converted a third and short for a first down, Palmer went to work on the much maligned Husky secondary. It worked. Mike Williams ran a deep post and was nearly seven yards behind the nearest Husky defensive back, Greg Carothers, and hauled in Palmer’s throw for a 43-yard touchdown. Cunningham and Derrick Johnson looked as if they were playing zone as they let the 6-5 phenom receiver run completely uncovered.
Nate Robinson returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the 40-yard line and the Huskies were poised to strike right back. Pickett found Reggie Williams for 19 and 20 yards respectively. A key play came on third and 11 when Pickett was able to hold the ball just long enough for Kevin Ware to get open for 13 yards to set up first and goal on the nine. Pickett was crushed on the play by Omar Nazel and got up slowly, but was able to shake it off enough to make a marvelous throw on third and goal from the five. Paul Arnold ran a circle route across the back of the endzone and the Husky quarterback was able to get the ball over and between three USC defenders and into Arnold’s hands to tie the game at the end of the quarter. USC’s Champ Simmons was literally one inch from getting his hands on the ball.
To address the rushing woes, Washington tried Braxton Cleman and Chris Singleton at the tailback spot. Cleman gained 12 yards on eight carries while Singleton had 1 yard on six carries. Rich Alexis, relegated to third team status, never got off the bench.
The big play came back to bite the Husky defense again in the second quarter. USC toasted the Husky secondary once again when Keary Colbert ran through Nate Robinson’s jam attempt at the line of scrimmage and sprinted a go route by the true freshman. Robinson was unable to close the gap and Colbert pulled in a perfectly thrown ball in stride for a 61-yard touchdown, the longest of the season for USC.
In what should’ve served as a foreboding, to that point in the game Palmer had only completed six passes but they covered 150 yards and two touchdowns.
A third bomb was narrowly averted when Palmer underthrew Mike Williams, who had Cunningham beaten on a fly pattern. The underthrow allowed Cunningham to get a hand on the ball. Palmer found Colbert for 21 and Williams for 16 to quickly move into the Husky red zone. On third and six, Kai Ellis was able to get to Palmer and force him to throw incomplete. Ryan Killeen successfully nailed a 30-yard field goal to push the Trojan lead to 17-7.
Washington went three and out on their initial possession of the second half. USC would eliminate any suspense that was left in the game shortly thereafter on their next possession.
Taking over on their own 38, the Trojans promptly went the distance in eight plays. Palmer sliced up the Husky secondary, finding TE Alex Holmes for 10 and Williams for 18 more. The key came on third and two from the Husky 22 when Washington’s interior defensive line jumped offsides to move the chains for the Trojans. On third and six from the 14, Palmer took a five step drop and rifled a strike to Mike Williams, who ran a slant in front of Derrick Johnson for the touchdown that put the men of Troy ahead 24-7.
Pickett hit Ware for a 39-yard gain to move the Dawgs into Trojan territory but two plays later, he threw a quick sight-adjust out to Reddick, who was not looking. The ball caromed off of the senior’s shoulder pad and into the arms of LB Matt Grootegoed, who returned it 49-yards before Cody Pickett ran him down. A personal foul on the Huskies placed the ball on the Husky 13-yard line.
Palmer once again found Williams in the endzone, this time from 11-yards out and with 6:56 remaining in the third quarter, the Huskies looked like a Pac-10 bottom feeder.
Pickett was intercepted once again, this time by safety Troy Polamalu. He read Pickett’s eyes and broke perfectly on the ball, returning it 33 yards to the Husky 12. USC was unable to punch it in, but only because Keary Colbert dropped a sure TD pass from 16-yards out. He was five yards open and felt some charity for the Dawgs as the ball bounced off of his chest. Killeen kicked a 33-yard field goal to push the lead to 34-7 with still 4:56 left in the third quarter.
The Huskies woke up in the fourth quarter and went 67 yards in eight plays and scored on a two-yard TD pass from Pickett to Ware to make it 34-14. Derrick Johnson caused a fumble and LB Joe Lobendahn recovered it and returned it to midfield. Pickett found Reggie Williams for a 27-yard score behind Marcel Allmond to make it 34-21.
It got a bit interesting when USC went three and out again and the Huskies had the ball on their 42 yard line with 9:19 remaining. On third and nine, Pickett found Williams for 22 yards to move the chains. On fourth and 10 from the 35, Pickett avoided a Mike Patterson sack and threw to Pat Reddick, who made a sliding reception that would’ve been good for a first down, but it was ruled a trap and the Huskies turned the ball over on downs.
Trojan reserve tailback Justin Fargas put the final score on the board when he sprinted 13 yards through the Husky defense for a touchdown with 3:23 remaining in the game.
Neuheisel called it a “very convincing win” by USC and praised their defense. “They are a very good football team. That was a good defensive front and we expected them to bring that kind of pressure. We just have to find a way to run the football, we’ll keep working at it. We as a football team are going to have to do a complete introspection as to how we are going to salvage our season.”
Weird stat: Tailback Braxton Cleman was the leading receiver today, catching FIFTEEN passes, but was only able to net 69 yards on all of those snags. His long was 10 yards. At one point in the fourth quarter, Husky quarterbacks threw to Cleman four times in a row.
Roc is gone: Cornerback Roc Alexander had surgery yesterday on his shoulder and will be out until next spring if all goes as planned. In his place today, sophomore Sam Cunningham got the start and true freshman Nate Robinson played a lot as well. Neuheisel said of the young defensive backs, “We are who we are. Nate and Sam both gave good effort but it was difficult at times.”
Leg up: Husky punter Derek McLaughlin had not had much of a chance to work on his game this season. Until today. This afternoon he punted seven times and averaged over 41 yards per boot. After two short punts, he boomed two over 50 yards.