Late fumble recovery, replay review allow No. 1 USC to escape Washington, 27-24
SEATTLE (AP)—Pete Carroll shook his head. Matt Spanos, who didn’t even expect to play, pulled out a weak smile and proclaimed mental exhaustion.
John David Booty just called it “weird.”
For three-plus quarters, Southern California was teetering toward becoming the sixth and mightiest top-10 team to fall this weekend. Ultimately, the top-ranked Trojans escaped.
Stafon Johnson ran for 122 yards and a touchdown and Chauncey Washington added 106 yards and a score as USC overcame its own numerous mistakes and Washington in a 27-24 victory Saturday night.
The Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-10) committed three turnovers and 16 penalties— their most in more than two seasons—for 161 yards, plus had a missed a field goal and blocked punt in a game played through a first-half drizzle. Yet they won for the 60th time in 64 games.
“Oh, it was a terrible night. Horrible night,” USC coach Carroll said, already looking ahead to next weekend’s home game against Stanford. “It’s how we respond now.”
“We were very fortunate,” the coach added, sighing over the close call despite a 460-190 edge in total yards. “We just couldn’t get out of our own way. Washington, it was there to take it.
“I’m so grateful to have this win,” Carroll said.
As tough a night as it was for USC, the Trojans made out much better than Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia, Texas and Rutgers, all top-10 losers this weekend.
Redshirt freshman Jake Locker continued his erratic passing, missing three open receivers in or near the end zone for Washington (2-3, 0-3), which lost its third consecutive game and is now 1-9-1 against No. 1 teams—including 0-7 when USC is top ranked.
Locker finished 12-for-27 with 83 yards passing and one interception, plus another 50 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.
“I need to be a lot better,” Locker said, attributing his poor throws to a release point that was too high.
Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano, noticeably frustrated by Locker’s wildness in what the Huskies feel were winnable defeats to Ohio State, UCLA and now USC, attributed it to Locker getting “jacked up” by Shareece Wright’s shoulder hit under the quarterback’s chin at the end of a 13-yard scramble out of bounds in the first quarter.
Locker popped to his feet immediately after officials flagged Wright for the first of three personal fouls in the first half on the Trojans. But then he grabbed his facemask and held it momentarily on his way back to the huddle, as if he was trying to steady swirling senses.
“I don’t know if he ever recovered from that,” Lappano said. “We’ve got to try to settle him down.”
Locker’s final TD came after a blocked punt and with 34 seconds left.
USC then recovered the onside kick and could finally relax. Sort of.
“I feel mentally exhausted right now,” said Spanos, who replaced injured freshman center Kristofer O’Dowd.
“We made it close tonight,” said Booty, who matched his season total coming in with two interceptions. “Washington, they had their chances—but we gave it to them. It was us.
“We can’t continue to play the way we played tonight.”
The Huskies were wearing the dark and gold jerseys and plain, gold helmets of the 1960 team which beat No. 1 Minnesota in the Rose Bowl, still the only time Washington has beaten a top-ranked opponent.
The magic was rubbing off—until the fourth quarter.
It took until 4:53 remained in the third quarter before USC got comfortable. Booty’s 32-yard pass to Fred Davis set up Washington’s 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Trojans a 24-14 lead.
Yet the Huskies trailed just 24-17 after a 37-yard field goal by Ryan Perkins with 12:44 left.
After an errant pass by Booty with 7:15 left forced USC to punt, Washington coach Tyrone Willingham stomped up the sidelines, looked at his offense with a smile and yelled “Let’s Go!” But then the Trojans’ Terrell Thomas ripped the ball from Anthony Russo’s arms on a punt return and recovered the fumble at the Huskies 43.
Officials initially ruled Booty had thrown his third interception, to Byron Davenport in the end zone with 3:06 left. But a replay review revealed Davenport juggled the ball off the turf as he fell onto his back. Washington defensive coordinator Kent Baer threw his play card into the turf as the referee announced the reversal to an incomplete pass.
On the next play, David Buehler kicked a 33-yard field goal amid rousing boos to give USC a 27-17 lead.
Just as the Trojans seemed to be taking control late in the first half, Booty threw a third-down pass behind fullback Stanley Havili. The ball smacked off Havili’s shoulder and into the arms of Mesphin Forrester, who cut across the field and ran 54 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14 as Booty stood watching, his hands on his hips.