LOS ANGELES — After Southern California lost to Washington on last-gasp field goals in each of the last two years, the 18th-ranked Trojans made sure the final seconds of the latest meeting didn’t matter at all.
Marqise Lee caught a touchdown pass and returned the second-half kickoff 88 yards for a score, and Curtis McNeal had a 79-yard TD sprint among his career-high 148 yards rushing in USC’s 40-17 victory over Washington on Saturday.
Matt Barkley passed for 174 yards and one touchdown while running for an early score for the Trojans (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12), who made sure Huskies kicker Erik Folk played no significant role, as he did in each of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian’s first two meetings with his former employer.
“This has become a big rivalry,” said Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, who coached alongside Sarkisian at USC for much of the previous decade. “It’s going to be a very competitive rivalry for a long time.”
Just not this time. Kiffin’s Trojans seem to be getting better every week down the stretch, winning five of six heading into next weekend’s trip to Oregon.
Marc Tyler rushed for a score for the bowl-banned Trojans, who took a 20-point halftime lead despite a rare quiet game from receiver Robert Woods. The sophomore had a season-low two catches — one on a forward pitch — for 5 yards.
Barkley also didn’t need to do much after throwing a school-record six TD passes last week at Colorado. Barkley’s offense outgained the Huskies 401-148 in the first three quarters with stern defense and two huge plays on special teams: the kickoff return by Lee, who required IV fluids on Friday after coming down with a fever, and a 35-yard run on a picture-perfect fake punt by Kyle Negrete setting up another score.
“I knew we lost to this team twice in the last two years,” said Lee, a freshman who wasn’t around for either defeat. “It feels good to break that streak with the W.”
Lee, Woods’ former high-school teammate, had his second straight impressive game with nine catches for 74 yards. Kiffin called him the best player on the field.
Keith Price passed for just 125 yards for Washington (6-4, 4-3) before leaving with an injured left knee in the third quarter of the Huskies’ third loss in four weeks to Top-25 opponents. Chris Polk rushed for a season-low 36 yards and a touchdown for the Huskies, who have lost to Stanford, Oregon and USC since their 5-1 start.
“I knew they had a chip on their shoulder,” Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said. “I wasn’t surprised they came out with fire at all.”
Sarkisian was left lamenting poor offensive execution and special-teams struggles after his first loss to the powerful Trojans, who employed him as an assistant coach to Pete Carroll for most of the past decade. Washington beat Carroll’s final USC team and Lane Kiffin’s first squad on Folk’s field goals.
“I think our kids really wanted to play well, and they tried hard,” Sarkisian said. “We just didn’t execute. I tip my hat to SC. They’re a good team, and they’ve really improved.”
Price went 12 for 16 for 125 yards — his lowest total since the Huskies’ season opener — and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season. The sophomore from nearby Compton was shaken up repeatedly while getting sacked four times before he was replaced by Nick Montana.
Joe Montana’s son threw his first career TD pass with 13 seconds to play, hitting Kasen Williams with a 20-yard fade.
Kiffin had the jump on Sarkisian, his longtime friend and co-offensive coordinator at USC for several seasons, from the opening minutes. After Barkley scored the Trojans’ first points on a sneak, USC went up 14-3 on Tyler’s short TD run to cap an 80-yard drive highlighted by Negrete’s run.
“There was no way I was going to slide,” said Negrete, who took a hit on the way out of bounds. “I haven’t seen green grass like that since I was playing in high school.”
A Washington penalty, a catch overturned by video review and a terrible shotgun snap then resulted in a safety when USC’s Devon Kennard sacked Price in the end zone. USC fielded the ensuing punt and marched down for Lee’s 9-yard TD catch.
Lee also opened the second half with a phenomenal kick return, almost coming to a stop before breaking out the back side of a scrum and running down the USC sideline, where he made a devilish stutter-step to lose the last Washington defender. Lee’s return even stunned Barkley, who forgot to run onto the field to hold for the ensuing extra point, resulting in a penalty that didn’t matter.
Washington’s offense immediately awoke with a 53-yard pass to Kevin Smith, setting up Polk’s 1-yard TD run just 84 seconds into the second half — but on USC’s next play, McNeal easily broke down the Huskies sideline and scored when pursuing cornerback Will Shamburger whiffed on a tackle at the 15.