LOS ANGELES – UW’s defense didn’t muster many plays on Saturday.
The outliers were everything.
With 1:14 left in the second quarter of No. 5 Washington’s 52-42 win, USC quarterback Caleb Williams took a shotgun snap from his own 25-yard line. His Trojans had tallied touchdowns on three consecutive drives, dominating a dilapidated UW defense.
They’d rushed for 134 yards, 7.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns, steamrolling the Huskies’ frazzled front seven.
They’d made magic inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, converting a delayed flea flicker into an unfathomable 41-yard Tahj Washington touchdown.
But with 1:14 left in the second quarter, one play – and one heavy-hearted Husky – stopped the storm.
In a 28-28 tie, Williams collected the snap, paused, backpedaled and was caught in Zion Tupuola-Fetui’s two-handed clutch. The Husky edge – who lost his father, Molia, last weekend – poked the football loose at the 11-yard line, and fellow edge Bralen Trice promptly fell on it.
UW’s defense, by the way, entered the day as one of two units nationally (along with Indiana) that had yet to recover a fumble this season.
Nearly 17 halves later, the Huskies made it hurt.
Three plays later, UW junior running back Dillon Johnson busted up the middle from 1-yard out to give the Huskies a 35-28 halftime lead.
Granted, UW’s defense didn’t offer much opposition against Williams – the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
But the outliers were enough.
Plus, UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. continued to make his own Heisman case. In a nationally televised, top-25 primetime game, Penix completed 22 of 30 passes for 256 yards with two passing touchdowns, a 1-yard rushing touchdown and an interception.
The highlight came with 11:54 left in the second quarter, when Penix took a shotgun snap from the Trojan 22-yard line on third-and-18. The sixth-year senior pump-faked, spun out of a sack, kept his eyes downfield and escaped toward the left sideline. Before drifting out of play he flung a prayer over three defenders and into the waiting arms of tight end Devin Culp, who ripped it from linebacker Eric Gentry.
The result was perhaps the most impressive play in Penix’s already storied college career.
But it takes a team to score touchdowns.
Johnson also exploded on Saturday – tallying 256 rushing yards, 9.8 yards per carry and four touchdowns.
The 6-0, 218-pounder notably burst through a hole on third-and-3 with 7:03 left in the second quarter and raced to the pylon for a 52-yard touchdown that tied the score at 21-21.
He also added a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 2:23 left to essentially seal the win.
UW junior wide receiver Rome Odunze contributed five catches for 82 yards, while Ja’Lynn Polk added five catches for 52 yards and a 4-yard score. Grady Gross knocked through a 43-yard field goal to give the Huskies a 45-42 lead with 12:25 left in the fourth quarter.
But against Williams and Co., field goals felt like failure. The elusive junior continually escaped Husky sacks, completing 27 of 35 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 16 rushing yards and another score. Running back Austin Jones added 127 rushing yards and an enormous 11.5 yards per carry.
UW’s previously pristine special teams units stumbled as well, as a first-quarter Jack McCallister punt was blocked by USC wide receiver Duce Robinson and recovered at the Husky 8-yard line. The Trojans took a 14-7 lead with a 1-yard Williams keeper two plays later.
But Johnson ran Washington to a highlight-heavy win.
And the outliers were enough.