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Trojans have no defense for this one

BILL PLASCHKE

USC is handed its first defeat when it can't stop Washington on the final drive of the game.

October 02, 2010|Bill Plaschke

Unbeaten slowly dissolved into unnerving, then unreal, then, if you were a USC fan standing motionless in the shocked-silent Coliseum Saturday night, completely unbearable.

After rolling through their first four games against underwhelming opponents, the Trojans were about to conquer a fifth when they — and there is no other way to ay this — rolled over.

They led the Washington Huskies by two points with two minutes remaining. They had pinned the Huskies back on their own 23-yard line. It was fourth down and 11.

And then it was over, but not like you'd think, Washington driving 61 yards in 10 plays, ending with a game-winning, clock-killing 32-yard field goal by Erik Folk to give Washington a 32-31 victory.

"If you are going to be a championship team, you have to finish teams off," Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin said. "We didn't finish them off."

It all happened in the blink of a why.

Five games into the season, why can't USC's defense tackle? Why can't USC's defense scheme? Why on earth have they been able to even win four games?

Entering Saturday afternoon, the Huskies were ranked 66th in the nation in total offense with 369 yards per game. By Saturday night, they were a juggernaut, gaining 537 yards, including 421 total yards of running and passing by quarterback Jake Locker.

Entering Saturday afternoon, USC's defense was ranked 87th in the nation. By Saturday night, they were in a free fall toward triple digits.

"It was really bad, actually," USC linebacker Michael Morgan said. "We just didn't come out. I just don't know."

It wasn't simply really bad, it was worse than that, a performance embodied in Washington's final winning drive, which began with three Trojans stops.

The game was done. The Huskies were done. Locker had been knocked silly on a previous drive, he wasn't himself, his team was exhausted, the crowd was roaring, one more play and the Trojans are dancing.

Instead, it was Locker dancing around the backfield and throwing a desperation jump pass to D'Andre Goodwin for 18 yards and a first down.

Why did he get open? How did he get open?

The Huskies rushed to the line of scrimmage, Locker handed the ball to Chris Polk, and he gained 26 quick yards to the Trojans' 33-yard line.

At least five Trojans touched him on that play. Why couldn't anybody bring him down?

Two plays later, Washington faced a third-and-five from the USC 28. Considering the Huskies ran the two previous plays into the middle of the line as if to set up an easier field goal attempt, the Trojans thought they would do it again.

They thought wrong, as Locker faked the handoff, faked the entire defense, and strolled outside for an eight-yard run and a first down. One five-yard run by Polk later, they were set up for the field goal.

"They're playing with a senior quarterback who made those plays today," Kiffin said.

No, Folk didn't miss the kick, even though Kiffin called timeout twice at the last moment in an attempt to ice him. Yes, this is the same Folk who hit the game-winning field goal with three seconds left last season in the Huskies' victory in Seattle.

The game ended with USC players crumbled on the ground in exhaustion while thousands of shocked fans stood still and stared. Kiffin was nearly plowed under by sprinting, celebrating Huskies as he searched for his former Trojans coaching buddy Steve Sarkisian.

If you're keeping score, it's Sarkisian 2, USC 0.

"It's disappointing to walk away from a game like that, especially when you're on the offense and standing on the sideline and can't do anything when they kick a field goal," quarterback Matt Barkley said.

Speaking of field goals, Washington took possession after Joe Houston's 40-yard field goal attempt hit the right goal post, but don't blame the kicker. This was about the defense getting kicked.

"Don't blame Joe," Barkley said. "It was about our offense not putting points on the board."

The offense? Allen Bradford ran for 223 yards, Barkley completed 14 of 20 passes and didn't throw an interception, Ronald Johnson caught 109 yards worth of passes. This wasn't about the offense.

This was about a defense that enters the meat of the schedule — Stanford, Cal and Oregon this month —seemingly helpless. The Trojans are 4-1, but as of Saturday night, all anybody can think about is that one, and wonder if it won't get worse before it gets better.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter.com/billplaschke

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