clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Surging USC ends Washington's perfect season and alters postseason race

The Playoff picture looks different now, and we’ll see about the Pac-12. Lots could happen in the next month.

USC v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

No. 20 USC upset No. 4 Washington on Saturday night in Seattle, 26-13. The Trojans didn’t fluke into it, either, outplaying the Huskies for most of the night to give them their first loss of the season. The result could shake up the College Football Playoff picture, although it doesn’t mean as much at the top of the Pac-12.

USC had an upper hand for the vast majority of the game. The Trojans got some separation in the second quarter, when they scored two touchdowns to just a field goal for Washington. Their halftime lead was 17-6, and they never looked far enough back to let the Huskies make a charge.

Washington counterpunched with a long touchdown from Jake Browning to John Ross midway through the third quarter, and a Huskies interception appeared to set up UW to take its first lead since the game was 3-0. But USC’s defense held on the ensuing drive, and rising redshirt freshman Sam Darnold threw an eight-yard insurance TD to Daniel Imatorbhebhe at the start of the fourth quarter. That gave the Trojans a feeling of command.

USC faced a third-and-4 deep in its own territory with just more than six minutes left, leading by 11. Darreus Rogers fought off Washington cornerback Kevin King for a 27-yard catch-and-run that moved USC across its own 40 and kept UW on the field.

The Huskies forced a punt a few plays later, but Adoree’ Jackson, who’d been burned on the Ross touchdown an hour earlier, basically sealed the game with an interception of Jake Browning on Washington’s first play of the new drive.

Jackson finished with two interceptions, a blocked-kick recovery, and an eight-yard carry that went for a first down. Darnold won his sixth start in a row with this line: 23 of 33 for 287 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 151 rating that dwarfed Browning’s 106.

Washington had its worst offensive output of the year by miles, staying well below a previous season-low of 31 points. It was an incredible defensive job by USC.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Huskies’ march toward the College Football Playoff has hit its first road bump.

It could be, but isn’t necessarily, a fatal one.

Unless Washington loses next week to Arizona State, a win against Washington State on Nov. 25 still puts the Huskies in the Pac-12 title game. A win there could still lead to the Playoff if just one or two things go right for them.

That they retain control of their Pac-12 destiny at 6-1 isn’t such a terrible consolation, and this Saturday might yet bring other chaos at the top of the Playoff picture. The Huskies haven’t been knocked out, but their Playoff path is now much more muddled than before. Certainty was a good thing, and now the Huskies don’t have it.

For the Trojans’ part, they’re more than a spoiler. They’ve won six in a row, and they’re still in the thick of a Pac-12 South race that also includes Colorado and Utah. The Trojans’ 1-3 start foreclosed any shot they might’ve had at the Playoff, but if they keep winning, they could see Washington (or WSU) in the Pac-12 title game. A win there, if it were ever to come about, would land the Trojans in a New Year’s Six bowl. It’d be hard to treat such an outcome as anything less than a successful season.

The Trojans, no matter how they end up, are impressive. They’ve been a national afterthought for the better part of two months, but they just summarily outplayed a Playoff contender on the road, and they finished well enough to put Washington in the loss column for the first time. Maybe that Clay Helton hire will work out yet.