SEATTLE -- “Defense wins championships.” It’s one of the most common sayings in sports. That could have been the case for the No. 21 Trojans in their matchup against No. 17 Washington on Saturday, but the offense, hampered by injuries, failed to produce. The Trojans fell 28-14 in a matchup defined by missed opportunities.
“We had the opportunity to really come away with a win today, and we let that go,” head coach Clay Helton said.
USC entered the game with one healthy scholarship quarterback, third-string redshirt junior Matt Fink, whose passing game was quickly halted by the Washington defense. Fink threw for 163 yards on 19 completions and two interceptions, a huge difference from the 351 yards he posted last week against then-No.10 Utah.
“The ball was turned over way too much,” Fink said. “They capitalized on just about each and every one of [the turnovers], which did not help at all.”
The game came down to offensive execution. Each defense provided its offense with plenty of opportunities to score, but the Huskies converted when the Trojans did not.
USC’s worst missed opportunity came early into the second half. USC was threatening to score after a 60-yard run by junior running back Stephen Carr put USC just outside the red zone. His run sparked hope in the Trojan faithful that USC could cut the Huskies’ deficit to just six points.
The Trojans’ short-term success turned to failure as Fink threw a goal-line interception. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Huskies’ junior running back Salvon Ahmed took the ball 89 yards to the house, increasing the Huskies’ lead to 21.
Regardless of Trojan fans’ unwavering hope, USC never showed promise of being able to pull out a win. The Huskies took the lead early and never let USC back into the game. Washington exited the first quarter with two touchdowns, both of which were the result of USC miscues.
Washington’s first scoring drive started at the USC 35-yard-line after the Trojans had to punt from deep within their own territory following a 12-yard sack. The Huskies’ next scoring drive started with an interception to freshman defensive back Cameron Williams.
“We are moving the ball, things are going our way,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “Then we turn it over, give them some momentum, and they get a big run. That's the game, you just can’t avoid that.”
On the other side of the field, the Trojans got off to a rough start. A lack of offensive production didn’t bode well for the Trojans, as the Huskies took advantage of every scoring opportunity possible. For the first time this season, the Trojans did not score on the opening drive; they wouldn’t put points on the board until late in the second quarter.
The offense picked up in the second quarter, and USC became less predictable as it utilized its run game. Fink put the ball in the hands of junior Stephen Carr and sophomore Markeese Stepp, and the two running backs combined for a total of 156 rushing yards.
“I got a lot faster and I was also dropping weight,” Stepp said. “Feel a lot better and a lot more mobile out there. Still gotta work on some things.
The USC defense was able to stymie Washington on a drive that started at the Huskies’ five-yard line, to set up the Trojans’ first score. After three plays and a couple of penalties, the Trojans backed the Huskies up enough to force a punt from the two-yard line.
USC opened the ensuing drive with great field position on the Huskies’ 39-yard line. Fink converted two key plays on the drive: two quarterback keepers, the first converted a fourth down and the second a diving play to cross the goal line. The Trojans were unable to keep up this momentum, however, and suffered several careless offensive errors.
Next week USC has a bye, a welcome break for USC to rehab the several players who have sustained injuries.
“For us, it’s just getting a little bit healthy, having the opportunity to get some guys back,” Helton said.
The Trojans will head to South Bend, Ind. on Oct. 12 to play Notre Dame.