Snap decision goes Trojans' way

All Tyrone Willingham has been asking for on the road is a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. He got all that and more from his Washington team, but time ran out on the Huskies as they were driving toward a chance to upset the No. 3 USC Trojans in Los Angeles.

But instead of Traveler running out on the field, it was a zebra that stymied UW's final shot at a monumental upset, leaving the Huskies with a bitter 26-20 taste in their mouths - something no moral victory would satiate.

With a finish nearly as bizarre as the Oklahoma-Oregon one a few weeks back, the Huskies would end up on the short end of an extremely hard-fought game, one that would see them outrush the Trojans 167-148 and also take the game to the home team when they had opportunities to blow it wide open, but USC eventually won the game on a little first-quarter trickery and a little help from the men in the striped shirts. The last time a Washington team defeated a top-three team on the road was the memorable 'It was a backwards pass' Apple Cup game, won 29-26 by Washington in 2002.

The Football Gods would not be smiling on the Huskies this time around.

With time running out in the game, Washington's Isaiah Stanback threw the ball in the middle of the field to Sonny Shackelford, good for a 19-yard gain and a first down. But the officiating crew appeared to let at least two to three seconds go on the play clock, giving Washington only two seconds to snap the ball and try one play toward the USC end zone.

"Our team felt very confident that we were going to take the ball down the field and score," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said. "I don't think they hesitated or blinked for one second."

They never got their chance. Or as Willingham would say, "we just ran out of time."

The umpire, Al Granado, who was standing over the ball, did not allow Washington center Juan Garcia to touch the ball while getting ready for the final play. When it was determined by the crew that the play would start with two seconds left, he continued to stand over the ball. Once it appeared as if the referee was going to blow the play live, Garcia had no chance to snap the ball back to Stanback, and while the Huskies were frantically trying to get the ball in play, the Trojans (5-0, 3-0) came running out on the field, seeing the four zeros on the LA Coliseum clock.

And that was it. Game over. Washington (4-2, 2-1) would not get a chance to shock the world. Instead, they were the ones that were shocked.

For Willingham, he wasn't going to pin the loss on the refs. But he wasn't happy about how they continued to suck a couple of seconds off at a time during the Huskies' final march. "I was more worried about the mechanics that take place during our two-minute sequence," he said afterward. "There's always debate as to when they allow our players to get over the ball so they can get the snap off as efficiently as possible. As was the case throughout all the plays on that sequence, they made it very difficult for us to get us moving as quickly as we like to move."

In fact, it appeared as if the umpire barely moved out of the way before the clock started, adding more confusion to the procedings.

"When he is backing out, the clock starts, so it's a difficult situation," Willingham said.

"The last play was a mess," said USC Head Coach Pete Carroll. "I wanted them to start the 24-second clock, but for some reason the refs refused. It was almost like a timeout for them. The clock was mishandled. They should move the sticks and immediately start the clock."

"I thought there was going to be an adjustment on the clock, but we had to make sure and get our team lined up," Willingham added. "If nothing goes on, we have to be ready to play, so that's what we were worried about."

And that's what happened. 65 yards of drive negated by a non-call.

But according to Head Referee Brian O'Cain after the game, it sounds like - at least in theory - Washington could have gotten off one last play.

"(After everyone is in position), I'll point to the ball to get the umpire off the ball and I'll start the clock when we get the chains set and the officials are in position and the players are ready to go," he said. "Then I wind the clock.

"The general rule of thumb is that if there is one second when I wind and they snap immediately, the play can go. We try to keep the same pace the whole game. We don't go faster or slower."

The finish also wiped out a gritty, hard-fought second half by Washington, one that saw them start it with a Bob Simmons-called onsides 'pooch' kick, followed by a Marlon Wood reverse for 46, down inside the Trojans' 5, a perfect call by Washington OC Tim Lappano. They would end up with three points on the drive, part of a second half that saw Washington out-score USC 10-9.

The Trojans, playing in front of a crowd of 90,202 that never looked like they were in the game early on, played well enough, but the Huskies' defense could never get off the field. USC was part of only three drives in the first 30 minutes of the game, but all three resulted in points and plenty of time taken off the clock.

Washington had seemingly stopped the Trojans at the UW 21 on their first drive, bringing out the field goal team. What the Huskies didn't count on was receiver Steve Smith hanging just on the field right next to the coaches. The ball was snapped, Smith took off toward the sideline and received a pass for 6 without a soul in sight.

The holder's knee was down, but by rule the holder is not down during the play. Smith took his pass and walzed into the northwest corner of the end zone while the Washington coaches took a timeout to make sure their grievances were known.

"We were trying to determine the origin of the play," Willingham said. "Was he on the field or was he off the field? We were trying to make sure they had the proper alignment when they ran that play, and I have to give them credit. It was a good call and they executed it very well. We didn't see it. In their substitution, he got lost. It was a great job on their part."

Stanback did not start the day off in solid form, but led the Huskies to two scores on his next two drives and looked like he was in the game mentally from the second drive on. He didn't finish the game with outstanding statistics - 17-38 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, but he moved the team extremely well and got the ball to his receivers when drives needed to be kept alive.

"I tought he represented himself pretty well," Willingham said of his quarterback. "He played all of the second half pretty beat up, so I thought he did a helluva job."

The offensive line also had it's first change of the year. Erik Berglund started at left tackle for Ben Ossai, per Coach Willingham's game-time decision. "There was a problem that I handled that didn't allow him to start," Willingham said, not elaborating further.

Defensively, Washington nutted up in the fourth quarter, only allowing 84 total yards - 76 coming on one drive. They were led by Dashon Goldson's 10 tackles. The senior from nearby Narbonne High gave it everything he had, including being helped off after his final play of the game. Willingham later said that Goldson had a concussion, the same for the player he replaced at safety earlier in the game - Jason Wells.

Matt Fountaine added 9 tackles from his cornerback position, and Tahj Bomar, Dan Howell and C.J. Wallace all added seven stops for the Huskies.

Ultimately it was a day that offered up a lot of promise, but not a ton of solace afterward.

"I think our football team played a helluva game against the 2nd, 3rd, 4th-ranked team in the country, depending on where you want to put them," Willingham said. "We played a heck of a game, but there are no awards for that. I understand that and our team understands that.

"There's too much pain right now in our locker room to think about any kind of moral victory." Top Stories