No. 7 Huskies exposed in loss
SEATTLE — While the celebration was underway on the far corner of the field, Washington was already starting the process of regrouping.
There's no more wiggle room for any slipups by the Huskies after seeing Sam Darnold and Southern California expose them in a way no one else has this season.
"I just think it's hard when you lose and you put so much into it, but we'll regroup," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "We'll be back. These kids are going to be resilient and we'll reload and see what we've got."
The Huskies (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) dropped three spots to No. 7 in the latest AP Top 25 after their 26-13 loss to USC on Saturday night. The bigger question is where Washington will land when the College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday and whether there remains a viable path for the Huskies to find their way into the top four without major upsets.
But the playoff positioning was secondary for the Huskies in the aftermath of the loss to the Trojans. Washington's defense — which had been regarded as maybe the best in the Pac-12 — was exposed by USC because Darnold was rarely pressured, and it suffered another big loss with linebacker Azeem Victor expected out for the season after a leg injury.
Darnold threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns, showing poise and playmaking in a hostile atmosphere. It wasn't forWashington's lack of effort. The Huskies thrived for most of the season by being able to get pressure in the pass game without having to bring extra defenders. Blitzing had been done in specific spots but not as the primary method to cause disruption.
That plan changed against USC — but didn't bring the desired results. Washington blitzed regularly, whether it was bringing linebackers up the middle or occasionally defensive backs off the edge. USC's defensive line was excellent at stemming the pressure and when defenders got to the backfield, Darnold used his athleticism to slip tacklers and extend plays with his feet.
The final result was Washington getting only one sack.
"I think you got to bring what you got to bring," Petersen said. "They did a good job of mixing up their calls, I thought, and the bootleg hurt us. ... So you're trying to mix it up there a little bit. I think overall, the defense was solid enough. I don't think it was an outstanding game by any phase of our team. Part of that's a credit to those guys, to USC, it is. They played good. They played hard and whooped us pretty good."
Washington's pass rush was already lagging since the loss of sack-leader Joe Mathis, who injured his foot during the Huskies' bye week. Petersen announced last week that Mathis would undergo surgery and is likely done for the season. In the four games since Mathis went out, Washington has just four total sacks. Before Mathis was lost, Washington was averaging four sacks per game.
What Washington lost with Mathis was pressure from the edge. What it loses with the expected loss of Victor may be more.
While he was occasionally out of position by being too aggressive, Victor was Washington's best tackler. He also called the defense for the Huskies, a role fellow linebacker Keishawn Bierria had to inherit midgame on Saturday. D.J. Beavers took over for Victor and finished with six tackles but also had his inexperience exposed at times, especially on USC's final touchdown, when tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe slipped behind Beavers and caught an 8-yard TD at the back of the end zone.
"We hate losing a guy like that, but like any situation playing football, guys get hurt," Washington cornerback Kevin King said. "D.J. got in there. He filled in and did his job. Next man up."