SEATTLE – It’s hard to be Houdini when the keys to success are spread throughout your roster.
But Southern California coach Pete Carroll felt like a man who’d been unlocked from the Pac-10 pokey Saturday after the Trojans beat Washington 43-23 at Husky Stadium.
The victory finished a five-game stretch in which the Trojans played four times on the road and survived.
They won four of the five to go 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-10, will finish the season with three of their final four games at home and are playing as well as any team in the country.
“It’s so good to have this stretch behind us,” Carroll said. “It’s been a grind for us, but our kids have done a marvelous job of handling the road situation. It’s really, really a good feeling to know we’re coming home.”
Carroll, of course, admitted it’s easy to feel good after a 20-point triumph in Husky Stadium, USC’s first victory in Seattle since 1993.
The Trojans’ offense rolled up 565 yards, the defense made huge plays to turn a close game into a rout, and USC got better as the game went on.
It sets up what Carroll called a classic game this Saturday – sixth-ranked Washington State, the Pac-10 leader, at fifth-ranked USC.
“This leads us into a fantastic matchup,” Carroll said.
USC is playing its best football at the right time, he said.
The Trojans are averaging 42.2 points in their last four games and have been held to less than 30 just once this season (a 23-0 opening victory at Auburn).
USC’s game of balance Saturday featured sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart’s passing with three young running backs who gained 208 yards rushing.
Freshman Reggie Bush darted around UW defenders for 81 yards on 12 carries. He also caught five passes for 132 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown that put his speed on clear display.
“I wasn’t trying to shake anybody because I didn’t see anybody,” said Bush, whose touchdown opened a 26-14 lead on the fifth play of the second half.
If it wasn’t Bush making the Huskies miss tackles, it was sophomore Hershel Dennis, whose 98 yards on 14 carries led all rushers.
After Bush and Dennis, the Trojans handed it to freshman LenDale White, who slipped the grasp of two UW tacklers on his 21-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
“You can name them all,” UW linebacker Tim Galloway said. “Anytime you have guys who can make plays every time they get the ball in their hands, it makes them dangerous.”
Same goes for the USC defense, which led the Pac-10 with 28 sacks entering Saturday. The Trojans dropped UW quarterback Cody Pickett only twice, but they harassed him into mistakes that played a big role in the outcome.
Junior defensive end Kenechi Udeze, USC’s sack leader, pressured Pickett into a wild throw in the first quarter that cornerback Ronald Nunn intercepted and ran 57 yards for a touchdown.
Udeze also got into Pickett’s face – and his passing arm – in the third quarter on a play that ended all hope for the Huskies, who trailed 26-17 and had the ball at the USC 24-yard-line. Pickett dropped back to pass before Udeze whacked his arm as he cocked it to throw.
The ball spurted backwards, two players dribbled it farther up the field and, after UW’s Khalif Barnes fell on it to retain possession, the Huskies lined up for their next play facing third-and-50 from their own 44.
“A sack is great, but a sack that causes a fumble is the greatest play for a defensive lineman,” Udeze said.
The Trojans also continued to display a trait that defines the best teams: They get stronger as the game goes on.
Besides outscoring UW 23-9 in the second half, USC held the Huskies to 33 passing yards and 36 rushing yards in the third and fourth quarters.
“The second half is something that’s pretty special for us,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t matter what happens early. We know we’re going to finish right.”
That will be important against Washington State, which learned a lesson about letdowns in blowing a 19-point lead in a loss at Notre Dame early this season. Last week, USC beat Notre Dame 45-14.
“USC is a great team,” UW linebacker Marquis Cooper said. “That’s the bottom line.”