BY Art Thiel 07:10PM 09/28/2019

Thiel: Two big plays, and Huskies survive USC

Once the Trojans eased up on the Air Raid and became Tailback U again, they scared Washington. But two big plays nearly back to back saved the Huskies.

Huskies RB Salvon Ahmed ran for 153 yards on 17 carries against USC. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Despite all the controversies and travail surrounding USC, the most scandal-ridden university in the country (non-sports as well as sports), it is still Trojans football. Even if they were now supposedly running an Air Raid offense with a third-string quarterback, they were still 3-1 and ranked 21st after a surprising win last week over 10th-ranked Utah.

And they had won five of their past six games at Husky Stadium, including the most recent visit in 2016, when they upset fourth-ranked Washington. Sure enough Saturday, the one-time Tailback U put up 212 rushing yards against the No. 17-ranked Huskies.

Old times, right?

Not quite.

Two large plays, made by best friends within a minute of one another, rendered the Trojans renaissance inert, returning coach Clay Helton to the hot seat, which has been a plumbing fixture in Los Angeles since Pete Carroll left 10 years ago.

Huskies fans would like to suggest beating USC 28-14 (box) foreshadows something great. But without a goal-line interception by junior CB Elijah Molden, followed moments later in the third quarter by a stunning 89-yard touchdown run by junior RB Salvon Ahmed, the Trojans likely would have been hailed as rising darlings by those in the national media who cling to the notion of USC as the West Coast’s lone team.

The Huskies missed enough tackles, made enough penalties and mistakes, and wrapped around an average output from QB Jacob Eason, were ripe for an upset loss. Especially to a team led by Mike Fink, a fifth-year senior starting his first career game, thanks to injuries to USC’s top two QBs.

Halfway through the third quarter with UW ahead 20-7 and USC stuck at its own 11-yard line, the Trojans exploded.

A 60-yard run by RB Stephen Carr, an eight-yard run by RB Markese Stepp and two short completions had USC at the UW 10-yard line. But on second-and-four, Fink tried to find star WR Michael Pittman in the end zone. He didn’t see Molden underneath the route.

“That saved us,” coach Chris Petersen said. “That was a 14-point swing. He picked it off and two plays later, Ahmed goes the distance. That was the sequence of the game.”

Molden, probably this year’s best secondary player, had yet to have a pick this season, despite numerous chances, and was getting irked.

“I just kept telling myself that it was coming,”  he said. “Especially after a game like BYU (last week in Provo, Utah), where I had a ton of targets and a ton of opportunities. I  had a feeling this game was going to be the one.”

His best pal on the team, Ahmed, had no chances at BYU. He stayed home from the 45-19 win nursing a leg injury.

“It was definitely weird,” he said. “I was at home with my family watching.

“It was big to bounce back from not playing. Those (injuries) are things you just gotta let go. My teammates had my back.”

Ahmed paid them back.

In the shadow of his own goal post, Eason hit TE Cade Otton for seven yards, then handed off to Ahmed.

“Is it normally a three- or four-yard run? Absolutely,” said offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “It’s an inside-hitting play which the defense overplayed, and he went outside with it.

“He gives you the spark you need to turn a short run into going to the other side of the field. One (defender)  fits the gap the wrong way, it’s a game-changer.”

Ahmed quickly burst free of the line and made it into an 80-yard footrace with three Trojans behind him. Given the caliber of athlete USC recruits, it was a remarkable thing to watch Ahmed hold his lead for the length of the field.

“There’s never too much speed,” Hamdan said.

Not only was it a career-long for Ahmed, it was the fifth-longest run from scrimmage in UW history, and longest since Napoleon Kaufman went 91 yards in 1994.

‘It was probably my longest,” Ahmed said, grinning. “I was tired.”

After a two-point conversion that made it 28-7, the Huskies appeared in command. But after USC scored on the next series, the Huskies decided to add some drama.

After a short punt, Washington had a first down at midfield early in the fourth quarter and wanted to try a complicated gimmick play they worked on all week.

The play started with a fake toss sweep to the right, then Eason handed off to TE Hunter Bryant going hard left. He was supposed to flip the ball to WR Aaron Fuller sweeping right, who apparently was planning to throw deep.

But USC blitzed, knocked the ball from Bryant and recovered the fumble. Palms went to foreheads across Husky Nation.

“That’s on me,” Petersen said. “We wanted to be aggressive in that situation. We may have been a little too aggressive.”

Said Hamdan: “We were trying to put the game away. It was the wrong play against the wrong defense. They brought an overload and we tried some trickeration that didn’t work.

“We’re not going to sit back. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”

Fortunately for the Huskies, USC was penalized 15 yards on the turnover for too much celebration, then was guilty two plays later of offensive pass interference. The drive fizzled, as did USC for the rest of the game.

It must say something about the Huskies that they can do an Evel Knievel-level crash-and-burn stunt and still beat USC by 14 points. But perhaps it says more about the Trojans, who needed to abandon the Air Raid against Washington a whole lot earlier. Then again, Mike Leach has been told that for six years, and it has yet to sink in.


  • Husky73

    Two interceptions at the goal line, and a recovered fumble in the end zone for a touchdown saved their bacon, eggs and grits. Next up, The Tree.

    • art thiel

      Huskies barely better than the Trojans. It’s enough.

      • Husky73

        Over about, oh, 90+ years, UW wins against USC have not been common. Any victory over the Trojans is cause for celebration.

  • Tian Biao

    college football! so it goes, a couple of plays either way and that’s the game. ps, that final poke at mike leach and the air raid: nice!

    • art thiel

      I probably shouldn’t pile on a guy who calls his players dumb and fat. Wait; Yes, I should.

      • Husky73

        I believe it was soft, fat, dumb, happy and entitled.

        • art thiel

          Tomahawk jam for Husky73.

  • 1coolguy

    The idiotic TE reverse that ended in the fumble to USC is simply glaring evidence of Hamdan’s not ready for prime time.
    It is shocking CP hired him in the first place, and as could be predicted, Browning didn’t have much of a senior year.
    Now he has the control of one of the most talented QB’s in UW history, and he throws for 180 yards??? With the budget (see Lake’s $1.1MM deal) CP has to make this a national championship program, hiring a person who has never been a D1 OC goes down as hair brained at best. Time for CP to off Hamdan and hire the coach he should have 2 years ago. This is no place for OJT!

    • Husky73

      It’s 21st century vogue for football fans to whine about the offensive coordinator. It happens everywhere.

      • 1coolguy

        I understand you bleed purple, but step back and consider this is Hamdan’s FIRST OC job – You consider hiring a person who has never held the position the wise thing to do with a program that 1/ Can pay the OC top dollar and 2/ Has its goal a national championship?
        I think not.

        • Husky73

          He has coached (quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends) at Maryland, Colorado, Sac St, and the Atlanta Falcons. He was OC at Davidson and Ark St. So, it’s not “his first OC job.” Yes, I do bleed purple.

          • 1coolguy

            Still sticking up for a guy with 1 exceptional year, is a UFA and is now on a practice squad? He was just darned lucky he had (3) NFL STARTING receivers to throw to and another who will be drafted this year in McClatcher. End of discussion.
            Put those 4 in with Sixkiller, Brunell, Hobert, the Huard’s, Flick, MOON, Tuiasosopo, Chandler, Pickett, Pelluer and Millen – IF you give these guys 4 years to start and pick Browning over ANY of these, you lose ALL cred

          • Husky73

            Twenty years from now, when Browning and Gaskin return as Husky Legends, the fans will say, “Good gawd, those guys had great careers.”

          • 1coolguy

            Choose who among these QB’s you would NOT take before Browning. This will be the truth….

        • art thiel

          Hey, Washington hired a guy to be a head coach who never had been a head coach at any level.

          • 1coolguy

            Sark? Remember, after “O-fer Willingham”, the line to UW was VERY short

      • art thiel

        Actually, the custom was done by 20th century primitives as well.

    • art thiel

      Petersen approved the play’s installation and it was practiced all week, waiting for the right score, down and distance to spring it. Hamdan may prove over his head, but this one play was Petersen’s idea.

  • rosetta_stoned

    wanted to try a complicated gimmick play they worked on all week.

    It seems Coach Pete goes out of his way to remind me he’s not Don James.

    • art thiel

      James thought exotic play calling was the toss sweep.

      • Husky73

        Oh, that made me laugh out loud. My wife is giving me the WTH look.