Man, what a Saturday, folks. Not the cleanest football game, but certainly an exciting one full of intrigue with two coaches (USC's Pete Carroll and UW's Steve Sarkisian – or three, if you include Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt – who know the other side so well.
In case you were living under a rock, the Huskies won 16-13 in dramatic fashion over No. 3 USC on Erik Folk's 22-yard field goal in the final seconds (of course, if you were living under a rock, you likely wouldn't be reading this blog).
Thought the subject we should approach today is the defense, which after the first two USC drives, was very opportunistic. Talked to a lot of folks around the press quarters who have covering the Huskies much longer than I have, and they all said the same thing – linebacker Donald Butler played his best game in a UW uniform, by far.
Butler was sensational in virtually every aspect. Here are some of his impact moments:
Never miss a local story.
• On Aaron Corp's first throw of the second drive, he nearly had an interception at the Trojans' 40.• At the end of the first half, with the Trojans facing a third-and-1, he tackled fullback Stanley Havili for a 3-yard loss, and time ran out on a field-goal attempt.• Again, it was Butler who got the upper hand on Havili on a screen pass. He stripped the fullback of the ball near the Huskies' 15 for a turnover.• He intercepted Corp on a pass intended for receiver David Ausberry at the UW 22. It was one of Corp's worst decisions of the game, and the senior made him pay for it.• On another third-and-short run early in the fourth quarter, Butler leveled Stafon Johnson on a right sweep run that went for no gain.• In another three-and-out USC drive on its next possession, he and Mason Foster held Joe McKnight to a 3-yard run on a play that was set up to go longer.• Twice on USC's drive in which the Trojans settled for a field goal, Butler stopped Johnson in the red zone for no gain.
Butler led all players with 12 tackles. And they were impact sticks, too. Seven of them were on plays USC gained three yards or less, including four in the final quarter.
Foster was stellar, too – three tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
So how about the third member of the trio – senior E.J. Savannah? This was the team's leading tackler in 2007. He returned after being off the team last season. He's a veteran presence.
Quite frankly, aside from the second half against LSU, his play has been spotty, at best. Don't know if you noticed in the early stages of the USC game, but Holt employed a 4-4 scheme to slow down the Trojans' run game, with Matt Houston being the fourth linebacker.
USC really tested the right side of the Huskies' defense, pulling Kris O'Dowd from his center position to clear the path for McKnight, Johnson and Havili at the second level. USC had five plays of 10 or more yards on its first two drives, with three runs of 25 yards or longer.
Savannah was a culprit on that. Some could argue the chief culprit. Twice, he was pulled from the game in place of Cort Dennison, and given a stern lecture to by Holt on the sideline. He eventually returned (and I've seen a threat about Savannah re-injuring his hand and having it taped back up. 1, I'll check on that Monday. 2, Don't think that was what Holt's rant centered around).
This is a defense with holes, no doubt. And I'm sure everybody is aware by this point about Holt's comment last week about the personnel deficiency on that side of the ball. Frankly, he's right on the mark.
In lieu of that, Holt needs his playmakers – and, yes, Savannah still qualifies as such based on his pedigree and track record – to make plays, not mistakes. Savannah needs to shore up his reads, and tighten up the coverage on the outside. If not, you might be seeing more of the likes of Dennison, or even Joshua Gage or Brandon Huppert in the lineup.