BRENT STECKER

Undefeated no more: No. 4 Huskies stunned 26-13 by USC

Nov 12, 2016, 8:10 PM | Updated: 8:46 pm

Jake Browning was intercepted twice in a game for the first time all season in UW's loss to USC. (A...

Jake Browning was intercepted twice in a game for the first time all season in UW's loss to USC. (AP)

(AP)

The loss of Joe Mathis for the season was one thing. Azeem Victor going down to an injury of his own was another. The disappearance of No. 4 Washington’s run game sure didn’t help, either.

Those three things added up to the worst week of 2016 for the Huskies, who lost 26-13 at home Saturday to a surging USC team to end their hopes of an undefeated season. With the loss, UW’s chance of being one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season took a big hit, too.

Stats

Without leading pass rusher Mathis, the Huskies (9-1 overall, 6-1 Pac-12) couldn’t get a handle on USC’s talented, elusive freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, who was sacked just once and completed 23 of 33 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

When Victor, Mathis’ fellow linebacker and Washington’s leading tackler, went down with a leg injury in the first half, the middle of the field opened up for the Trojans (7-3, 6-2), who scored three touchdowns after he was carted off the field.

And without Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman finding room to run out of the backfield, USC’s secondary did better against the deep ball than any opponent the Huskies have seen during their spectacular season.

Yes, John Ross had a jaw-dropping, 70-yard touchdown catch from Browning. But it was a rare highlight in a game that was full of missed opportunities for the Huskies, who didn’t find the end zone until that play in the third quarter and struggled on third down against Darnold and the USC offense.

USC will most assuredly make a big jump in the polls this week after becoming the first team to knock off Washington. As for the Huskies, the question isn’t so much how far they will fall, but if there’s any way they can show enough over the next two weeks (and potentially in the Pac-12 championship game) to get back in the national title picture. The silver lining is that both No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Michigan were also upset on Saturday, so the Huskies’ hopes haven’t been completely squashed.

Turning point: Daniel Imatorbhebhe hauled in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Sam Darnold with 13:33 left in the fourth quarter, ending a short run of momentum for the Huskies after John Ross scored on a 70-yard touchdown and the UW defense had made three straight stops. Imatorbhebhe’s touchdown made it an 11-point USC lead and came on third down, just as it looked like UW was about to hold the Trojans to a field goal that would have kept it a seven-point game.

Biggest takeaway: The Washington offense had a rough night, but it’s the Huskies’ defense that suddenly looks vulnerable. With Joe Mathis out for the year and Azeem Victor potentially going to miss significant time, UW could be without its two most talented linebackers going forward. USC showed how important those two are to the Huskies, as Darnold eluded pressure all night long and found all kinds of success passing in the middle of the field after Victor’s injury. That could be a big factor again for UW in two weeks in an Apple Cup that will likely settle the Pac-12 North title.

Player of the game: USC cornerback Adoree Jackson. Sure, he may have had his ankles broken (not literally) on Ross’ touchdown reception, but he is the only person who can say he intercepted UW quarterback Jake Browning twice this season. He was also a big reason Browning didn’t have much success throwing downfield.

Passing grades: Browning had his worst performance of the season, getting picked off multiple times for the first time in a game since Nov. 14, 2015 against Arizona State. He finished 17 of 36 for 259 yards, one touchdown and the two interceptions, and his Heisman hopes took an even bigger hit than Washington’s chances at the national title.

On the ground: USC’s defensive line did its part, making sure the Washington offensive line didn’t make enough room for Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman. Gaskin was held to 51 yards on 15 attempts, with a long of just 11, while Coleman managed just six yards on two carries.

What’s next: The Huskies will take on Arizona State in their home finale next Saturday in another 4:30 p.m. game.

Brent Stecker

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Undefeated no more: No. 4 Huskies stunned 26-13 by USC