"USC is a great team; that's the bottom line," said Washington linebacker Marquis Cooper, who led the team with 10 tackles. "They were very fast and we had a rough day out there today."
How rough was it? What was a close game for three quarters turned into a route by game's end, as the Huskies scored the final touchdown in the final minutes to "pull" within 20. The Trojans put up 565 yards of total offense, the first time a team had racked up over 500 yards against Washington since the BYU game in 1999.
While it was USC's sophomore tailback, Hershel Dennis, that led the team in rushing with 98 yards, it was the jaw-dropping athleticism of true freshman Reggie Bush that had everyone talking during the post game.
"You can see why he was the most highly recruited player in the west coast last year," said Husky head coach Keith Gilbertson. "We couldn't keep up with him."
Bush beat the Huskies in every way possible. He ran around them, over them, and on several occasions he even wiggled his way out of situations where Husky defenders seemingly had him surrounded. Bush finished with 12 carries for 83 yards, and that was just what he did on the ground. Through the air, he hauled in five receptions for 132 yards and two long touchdowns.
"He is a good player and a fast athlete," said UW senior defensive end Terry Johnson of Bush. "I didn't know he was that good.
"He is a very talented player and has a good chance to play on Sundays. He's a tough matchup for anybody."
Bush's first touchdown came with the Trojans up six points on their first drive of the third quarter. Needing a score to get some breathing room, the brilliant mind of USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow came up big as the Trojans ran Bush out of the backfield. The super-frosh snuck away from UW inside linebacker Tim Galloway, caught the pass, then left the entire secondary in the dust for a 60-yard score. A two-point conversion failed, putting USC ahead by 12.
Washington answered immediately with a field goal to draw to within nine, and had a golden opportunity to get even closer on the Trojans' following possession.
A fumble on a pitch from quarterback Matt Leinart to Dennis was recovered by UW cornerback Derrick Johnson at the Trojan 16. What happened next was the turning point in the game. A holding call on the Huskies back them up to the 24-yard-line, and on the next play Kenechi Udeze hit Cody Pickett as he was throwing, forcing a fumble that was kicked all the way back to the UW 44. That set up a pathetic third-and-50. It was the first time anyone in the press box had ever seen a drive start 11 yards away from paydirt and end with a punt.
"I thought my arm was coming forward," said Husky quarterback Cody Pickett. "I thought it was an incompletion, but the refs said it was a fumble. That was huge. It took away a for-sure field goal and a possible touchdown."
USC answered with a field goal.
"That was certainly a critical moment in the game," said Gilbertson. "We had a chance to take the game down to two points and that would have put us right back in it."
The Trojans tacked on two more touchdowns on long passes from Leinart in the fourth quarter before the damage was done. Leinart, only a sophomore, finished the day 19-29 for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
With the injury bug biting the Huskies harder than ever, several new faces saw extended time in the lineup. The absence of cornerbacks Chris Massey and Roc Alexander forced the seldom-used Sam Cunningham into action – he covered USC's star wideout Mike Williams most of the game – as well as freshmen Matt Fountain and Dre Simpson.
Senior tailback Rich Alexis also was held out, still nursing a thigh bruise that he sustained last week against Oregon State. Kenny James got the first start of his Husky career, and made the most of it. He rushed for a career- high 58 yards on 13 carries, and got the crowd into it early with a tough 15-yard touchdown to put UW ahead 7-0.
"It was a good experience," said James. "I felt good about it."
Of his touchdown, in which James bulldozed a defender at the line and sidestepped another before crossing the goal line, he said it a pretty simple play.
"I just put my head down and put it in there," he said. "There wasn't anything about that play that was special; it was just a little blast. I guess I wanted it more than anybody else."
The Husky offense was led by the nine receptions and 115 receiving yards of Reggie Williams, who caught all of his passes in the first half. Charles Frederick sprained his shoulder and missed the second half, allowing the Trojans' secondary to put even more attention on Williams.
Williams said after the game that the Huskies need to put the game behind them and focus on the rival Oregon Ducks, who come to Seattle next Saturday.
"This game is over," said Williams. "Now we're on to next week. We need to watch film and see where we made our mistakes and correct them."