LOS ANGELES – Washington’s victories over Southern California in the past two seasons were the biggest evidence of the Huskies’ remarkable progress under coach Steve Sarkisian.
The Huskies’ blowout loss to the 18th-ranked Trojans in the latest meeting of this simmering rivalry only emphasized to Sarkisian how far they’ve still got to go.
Marqise Lee caught a touchdown pass and returned the second-half kickoff 88 yards for a score, and Curtis McNeal had a 79-yard TD sprint among his career-high 148 yards rushing in USC’s 40-17 victory over Washington on Saturday.
Matt Barkley passed for 174 yards and one touchdown while running for an early score for the Trojans (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12), who made sure Huskies kicker Erik Folk played no significant role, as he did in each of Sarkisian’s first two meetings with his former employer.
Sarkisian was left lamenting poor offensive execution and special-teams struggles after his first loss to the powerful Trojans, who employed him as an assistant coach to Pete Carroll for most of the past decade. Washington beat Carroll’s final USC team and Lane Kiffin’s first squad on Folk’s field goals.
“I think our kids really wanted to play well, and they tried hard,” Sarkisian said. “We just didn’t execute. … The last two weeks, especially offensively, we haven’t progressed. We haven’t found a rhythm offensively the last two weeks that we are accustomed to.”
Keith Price passed for just 125 yards for Washington (6-4, 4-3) before leaving with an injured left knee in the third quarter of the Huskies’ third loss in four weeks to Top 25 opponents.
Chris Polk rushed for a season-low 36 yards and a touchdown for the Huskies, who have lost to Stanford, Oregon and USC since their 5-1 start.
“I knew they had a chip on their shoulder,” Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said. “I wasn’t surprised they came out with fire at all.”
Price went 12 for 16 for 125 yards – his lowest total since the Huskies’ season opener – and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season. The sophomore was shaken up repeatedly while getting sacked four times before he was replaced by Nick Montana.
Joe Montana’s son threw his first career TD pass with 13 seconds to play, hitting Kasen Williams with a 20-yard fade.
Kiffin had the jump on Sarkisian, his longtime friend and co-offensive coordinator at USC for several seasons, from the opening minutes. After Barkley scored the Trojans’ first points on a sneak, USC went up 14-3 on Tyler’s short TD run to cap an 80-yard drive.
“This has become a big rivalry,” Kiffin said. “It’s going to be a very competitive rivalry for a long time.”