Sat Sep 19 08:14pm EDT
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Washington 16, USC 13. We'll return to Washington's role in this Tunguska event momentarily, but for the record: Congratulations, Huskies. Last week you end the nation's longest losing streak; this week you end a 10-game Pac-10 skid by knocking off the seven-time-reigning conference champion. That's, uh, quite a turnaround you've got there, Coach Sarkisian.
Now, to the main event: Welcome back to the center of the shame stage, USC. The Trojans ought to be familiar enough with the routine by now; I know I am, considering we went through the same reaction twice in 2006, again in 2007 and again last year. It's the Trojans' fifth loss as a double-digit favorite in four years, all of them utter jaw-droppers. The home collapse against Stanford two years ago -- when the Cardinal were also breaking in a brand new, young coach after a catastrophe of a season in 2006 -- was the greatest upset of all time; the Huskies were only half the underdog today (+19) that Stanford was then (+38), but that speaks far more to where the Trojans are now than the Huskies. And where that is, clearly, is in a near-constant state of vulnerability for a team that probably still deserves to be favored every time it walks on the field.
I'll say here exactly what I said after last year's stunning loss at Oregon State: USC can't keep getting passes for games like this.
Three Four years in a row it's dropped out of the top two or three in the polls with a shocking, inexcusable loss to a vastly inferior outfit, with the exact same set of problems: Inconsistency at quarterback, a sketchy, makeshift running game and no go-to playmakers anywhere on an offense ostensibly overflowing with them.
Unlike last year, however, I'm no longer willing to concede that one-loss SC is certain to rebound and wind up running roughshod over the rest of the Pac-10, anyway. This bunch had a laundry list of obvious issues coming in, especially at quarterback, and it's not going to solve them by getting Matt Barkley back next week from his sore shoulder. These are not fluky problems: The Trojans are not good right now on offense; they're disconcertingly young on defense; and they're banged up everywhere.
Most distressingly, the killer instinct that's been so apparent for years in big games was completely absent again today when the spotlight was off: The Trojans moved the ball just fine, especially on the ground, but failed to score at all on four separate drives that crossed the Husky 35-yard line and had to settle for field goals on two others. For the second week in a row, the offense mounted one (1) sustained touchdown drive. Only this one was against the reigning laughingstock of the West Coast, not a perennial top-10 power, and Washington was able to take command with momentum in its grasp in a way Ohio State almost refused to.
So the Huskies, clearly, are a very, very different team under former SC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian than under Tyrone Willingham, whose lackluster recruiting supposedly left the program in a hole it would take a half-decade to crawl out of. Judging from the Huskies' heroic effort against LSU in the opener and the new Upset of the Year, it took Sarkisian an offseason. Talent or not, this is a totally different team.
USC, though, USC is the Same Old Trojans: Win the big one, gaffe away the little one. Four straight years and counting. Again, I'll repeat myself from last September's loss in Corvallis: If Ohio State deserves to be ridiculed and scorned and run out the mythical championship picture on a rail for its primetime, big game failures, when are we going to hold USC accountable for repeatedly losing the little one?