No. 17 Washington took care of business Saturday with a 28-14 home win over No. 21 USC at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
The Washington pass defense shined, forcing USC quarterback Matt Fink into three interceptions and 5.1 yards per attempt.
On offense, running back Salvon Ahmed led the way, scoring a game-breaking 89-yard touchdown run to give the Huskies a 26-7 third-quarter edge.
Washington, which has won three straight after a 20-19 home loss to Cal, improved to 4-1 overall (1-1 Pac-12). The Trojans fell to 3-2 and 2-1 in Pac-12 play.
Jacob Eason, QB, Washington: 16-of-26 for 180 yards
Salvon Ahmed, RB, Washington: 17 carries for 153 yards, one TD
Aaron Fuller, WR, Washington: six receptions for 68 yards
Cameron Williams, DB, Washington: two interceptions
Matt Fink, QB, USC: 19-of-32 for 163 yards, one TD, three INTs
Stephen Carr, RB, USC: seven carries for 94 yards
Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC: four receptions for 64 yards, one TD
Washington's Dominant Pass Defense Strikes Again
Washington's spectacular pass defense has been on point all season, as it allowed just 6.01 yards per pass attempt entering Saturday.
More of the same occurred against USC en route to holding the Trojans to just 163 passing yards.
The matchup may have been too difficult, with Washington employing a swarm of defensive players in coverage, as noted by Percy Allen of the Seattle Times:
The Huskies' work against star USC wideout Michael Pittman Jr. certainly played a part, and Tim Booth of the Associated Press noted their successful strategy:
Pittman wasn't even targeted until midway through the second quarter.
He was the intended receiver when USC drove deep into Washington territory down 20-7 in the third quarter, but defensive back Elijah Molden perfectly read Fink's pass and picked him off.
Ryan Kartje of the Los Angeles Times placed the blame on Fink, who met his match Saturday:
That led to Ahmed's 89-yard scamper.
Fink and Pittman eventually did connect thanks to a 44-yard touchdown to answer the Ahmed score:
However, USC couldn't gain much traction after that en route to the 14-point loss.
The Trojans simply couldn't move the ball deep downfield all game, with Adam Maya of Sports Illustrated pointing out the following stat in the third quarter:
Washington also enjoyed a dominant first half, holding Fink to a 10-of-15 performance, 62 yards, 4.1 yards per pass attempt and a pick by halftime. USC also rushed for just 2.7 yards per carry.
The Huskies have finished fifth in scoring defense over the past two years and eighth the season before. If they are to contend for the Pac-12 title once again, more of the same will be needed in conference play.
USC's Defense, Sloppy Play Compound Offensive Concerns
USC entered its matchup with Washington averaging 33.25 points over its first four games, with a 45-20 win over No. 23 Stanford and a 30-23 victory against No. 10 Utah chief among them.
Given that first-stringer JT Daniels and backup Kedon Slovis were lost to injuries earlier this season, their early season performance may have set unrealistic expectations going forward, especially against strong defenses like Washington's.
Third-string quarterback Matt Fink did not follow up his excellent performance against No. 10 Utah with another stellar outing, but in fairness, he was thrown into a lion's den last week before facing an even tougher matchup this week. In other words, a struggling USC offense may not have been surprising in retrospect.
What is more concerning is USC's defense, general sloppiness and penalties.
Washington quarterback Jacob Eason was relatively quiet at 16-of-26 for 180 yards, but he made plays when needed, most notably finding Aaron Fuller for 23 yards en route to a touchdown that gave Washington a 13-0 edge.
However, the biggest blow occurred when USC allowed the aforementioned huge chunk play to Ahmed, and Josh Webb of Athlon Sports covered the reasons it happened:
The Trojans responded with the Pittman touchdown and forced the Huskies to punt on their next possession.
USC came up empty and held off Washington again, but the Trojans took a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a player left the sideline and went onto the field. The ensuing drive came up empty.
The Trojans finished the day with eight penalties for 80 yards compared to seven for 44 yards on the Huskies' side. They also lost the turnover battle 3-1.
Webb noted that the issues seen aren't exclusive to Saturday's contest:
Ultimately, this was a game where the defense had to step up and keep sloppiness to a minimum against a tough team to help out a struggling offense that only managed 5.3 yards per pass attempt.
Neither of those things happened, and now USC is left searching for answers leading into another Top 25 contest against Notre Dame.
USC will face its third straight Top 25 opponent (and second on the road) when it visits No. 10 Notre Dame on Saturday, October 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Washington will stay in conference for a road matchup against Stanford on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET.