No. 17 Washington Beats No. 21 USC Behind Salvon Ahmed's 153 Rushing Yards

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorSeptember 28, 2019

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 07: Salvon Ahmed #26 of the Washington Huskies warms up before the game against the California Golden Bears the at Husky Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

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.

FOX Sports @FOXSports

89 YARDS TO THE HOUSE! Salvon Ahmed breaks loose to help @UW_Football capitalize on the big interception 🙌 https://t.co/5v6pVPpAQ3

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.


Notable Stats

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:

Percy Allen @percyallen

UW deploys its 3-man rush, 8 man coverage defense against USC's Air Raid attack.

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:

Tim Booth @ByTimBooth

Interesting how Washington is defending Michael Pittman on the 1st drive. It's either been Keith Taylor in press coverage or bracket coverage with Kyler Gordon and Taylor. Pittman had 0 targets on USC's opening drive.

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:

Ryan Kartje @Ryan_Kartje

Just a really bad decision by Matt Fink. USC gives away its best chance to cut the lead with a bad interception.

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:

FOX Sports @FOXSports

Down but not out! @Mikepitt_jr hauls one in to pull @USC_Athletics to within 2 scores. https://t.co/pP6l7DeUlN

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:

Adam Maya @AdamJMaya

Fink has attempted just THREE passes spanning 10 yards. Two were picked off, the other was deflected.

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:

Thanos @FightOnTwist

Horrible tackling. Horrible pursuit angles. Horrible defensive coverage.

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:

Thanos @FightOnTwist

This game is just emblematic of everything that has been wrong with USC since Helton took over: -- Dumb penalties -- Poor decisions by the QB -- Lack of identity on offense -- Lack of balls on defense -- Zero consistency other than the team having no consistency

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.


What's Next?

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.